An Agile Supply Chain is Key for This Year’s Unpredictable Fall Season


The pandemic dramatically changed the way students learn this year, creating a last-minute need to homeschool with little time to prepare. Supply chains are in an especially tough spot, but back-to-school is just one of many recurring events — like product launches, promotional periods and holidays — that can cause disruption to supply chains.

Even more challenging is the fact that this year’s back-to-school season is for the first time, very unpredictable.

Some supply chains are better than others, and it is ultimately the ones that are the most agile, adapting to events as necessary, that are the most profitable.

Take Advantage of Agility and Resiliency

Many supply chain processes and systems are not fully designed for events, so they lack the capabilities necessary to manage them successfully. Their disjointed structure and lack of visibility leads to underwhelming performance.

In order to overcome these and other issues during the back-to-school and fall shopping season and beyond, suppliers typically start by forecasting the campaign. They take a risk by building up their stock, and they position their stock in what they hope will be the right location. This hit-or-miss strategy adds to their risk and could create massive challenges if they guess wrong.

In a perfect world there would be zero lead times and supply chains would perform flawlessly with 100% responsiveness. But that’s not possible. Indeed, omnichannel retailers might be able to get an early indication of trends online — otherwise it’s up to responsive supply chains.

While it might seem difficult to evolve in this environment, failing to do so could result in lost sales or deep discounting. In order to reposition and adjust, supply chains need to be much more agile and responsive to events and trend shifts.

COVID-19 has proven to be the real black swan and has impacted each and every one of us. This is another reason why agility and resiliency have become so important.

Be Positioned to Survive and Thrive

This year’s back-to-school shopping season is easily the most unique in recent memory, adding a layer of complexity and uncertainty. To cope with school plans across every district, external insights are needed to enable the ability and agility to respond quickly and efficiently.

Good insights enable good event planning, which in turn enables great scenario planning. And great scenario planning is the basis for agile and resilient supply chains, allowing them to better respond to unexpected events.

Antony Lovell is VP of applications at Vuealta.

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