In the retail industry, on-time in-full (OTIF) isn’t just a target — it’s the value system at the heart of retail that keeps the industry alive. When orders are delivered on time and in full, the fulfilled promise doesn’t just build trust with the customer; it also builds trust between the links in the supply chain. Trust that the demand planners will have their promises fulfilled so that assortment planners will have their promises fulfilled so that inventory will have their promises fulfilled, and so on.

The thing is, it’s hard to foster trust when things fall through the cracks. Storms (both metaphorical and literal) are almost impossible to predict and, in a chain structure wherein the outcomes of one area affect the other so profoundly, passing on an unbroken promise can resemble a complex game of broken telephone.

Nevertheless, building profound and lasting trust between retailers and their customers — as well as between every link in the retail supply chain — is possible. However, the imperative is to stop considering how to prevent the broken telephone effect with a patchwork of point solutions designed to optimize within a silo. A hydra is not slain by cutting off one head at a time; the problem needs to be addressed as a whole, not point by point.

The retail supply chain stands to benefit from a holistic, end-to-end solution that engenders greater trust from start to finish. This is possible if you see trust as the sum of its supply chain parts; and no other areas within the retail supply chain build trust faster than inventory, orders, fulfillment, and returns.  

The Current State of Trust in the Retail Supply Chain

One of the issues that may be affecting trust in the retail supply chain is that many executives at large multinationals are overestimating how stable those bonds are. A 2023 Deloitte survey of U.S. stakeholders suggests that global executives overestimated the trust in their organization’s supply chain by an average of 20% — quite a significant figure.

In the same study, Deloitte investigated the factors that differentiated leading suppliers. The results reflected that leaders are 3.8 times more likely to use advanced predictive technology to produce more accurate demand forecasts. In 2024 and beyond, there is little doubt that the “advanced technology” described here will include AI-driven solutions. The more end-to-end visibility these digital solutions can provide retailers, the better the business outcomes.

Finally, the outcomes of the study indicate the critical significance of adopting an end-to-end solution to building trust in a healthy supply chain with robust KPIs. Deloitte describes the broken telephone phenomenon as such:

At its core, customers may not trust they can purchase the brand’s products when they need them most, suppliers may lack confidence in the enterprise’s ability to scale demand, and the board members and investors may lose trust in the C-suite’s and organization’s ability to navigate an ever-more-complex environment.

Alternatively, the study continues, when trust is strong between an organization and its stakeholders, the organization is “much better positioned to collaborate with customers and vendors, share critical information, and capitalize on market opportunities in a concerted manner.”

Implementing an ill-fitted patchwork of point solutions is not going to engender the kind of trust required for a retail supply chain to capitalize on market opportunities in a concerted manner. Making that effort in concert requires the application of an end-to-end solution that accelerates planning, amplifies experiences, supercharges fulfillment, and builds greater trust — all with the greater goal of unlocking exponential potential in the positive growth of select KPIs.

Getting to the Heart of the Hydra: Trust Is Built With Inventory, Orders, Fulfillment, and Returns

Fostering trust for a truly healthy and optimized retail supply chain calls for an end-to-end approach, but the areas in which organizations are most likely to win and maintain customer trust are inventory, order orchestration, fulfillment, and returns. Never has this been more true than in the advent of the “shopper you cannot see” — digital shoppers who adopt omni-channel modes of ordering retail goods to be shipped to their front door, where and when they need it most.

The concept of the invisible shopper poses unique challenges for retailers to foster trust remotely — that is, without consumer contact with either the product or a salesperson. In these instances, customers will be looking for trust indicators like a transparent returns policy, accurate inventory data, reliable product reservations and orders delivered on-time and in-full, which is why inventory, orders, fulfillment, and returns are four key areas where customer trust is bolstered.

Moreover, these key areas must be orchestrated from end to end to ensure that customer trust is never compromised at any point in their journey with you. This customer-centric approach to thinking about delivery scenarios is how Walgreens came to their 30-minute promise, one that they consider critical to their patients and customers.

Andy Kettlewell, Group VP of Inventory and Analytics at Walgreens, framed the significance of having follow-through on promise fulfillment this way: “If you’re a parent, it’s critical that Walgreens can promise an accurate amount of pediatric fever reducer at two in the morning that we can have delivered to your home.” To make the “magic” of this promise a reality, Walgreens leverages order management microservices from Blue Yonder to put inventory in the places where people are most likely to need them.

By adopting Blue Yonder’s order management microservices, Walgreens can both optimize their available-to-promise to maximize customer satisfaction and also route orders more efficiently in accordance with available in-store labor, inventory levels, and the availability of couriers and last-mile deliverers.

This degree of through sight also empowers organizations to act with more speed and agility during times of disruption. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, some of L.L.Bean’s business categories dropped while others took off. Because they had implemented an end-to-end Blue Yonder solution, every department from forecasting to buying and allocation was able to respond quickly.

Not only were they able to watch their forecasts respond in real time to disruptions, but they could communicate their needs to their vendors clearly and efficiently. Furthermore, they were able to pull up future orders and exceed their sales plan by 130% while also reducing inventory liabilities in categories that were negatively impacted.

Orchestrate and Synchronize the Retail Supply Chain Around the Customer for Strengthened Trust

We already know that artificial intelligence (AI) adoption is the poster child for efficiency in the coming years, but will it be a key driver of trust? Can a GPT-driven bot calm a customer down when the system fails to keep a promise? Probably not. Should it have had to handle that task in the first place? The answer to that will always be a hard no.

Trends aside, interactions that inspire confidence and build lasting relationships within the retail ecosystem are won through customer-centric supply chain orchestration and synchronization.

Schedule your strategy call with a Blue Yonder expert. They’ll explain how efficiently your organization can implement and scale an end-to-end supply chain solution that engenders stronger trust between stakeholders as well as customers.