What a difference a year makes.
Last February, most of us were going about our lives as usual—commuting to the office, stopping at the grocery store, making plans to meet friends at that favorite neighborhood restaurant. Little did we realize those actions would become either unnecessary or taboo in the months ahead due to lockdowns and capacity limitations caused by the pandemic.
Against this backdrop, logistics has emerged as an essential part of our daily lives. This may be more obvious to those of us who work in the industry or cover it for a living, but if you think about it, logistics has come home in ways most of us couldn’t have imagined 12 months ago. Loading docks (the front stairs), shipping and receiving areas (the dining room table), and inventory stores (an overstocked pantry, perhaps, or a set of basement shelves brimming with paper goods) are as ubiquitous in residential neighborhoods today as driveways and front lawns. Many of the pandemic-induced behavior changes will become permanent, and they have put the supply chain “on the map” in a couple of important ways.
First, the product shortages that marked the early days of the pandemic shined a light on the industry. It’s never been easier for me to explain to friends and family what I write about for a living, for example. This will likely draw more people to the profession and elevate the supply chain’s status in corporations around the world. Target Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer Arthur Valdez Jr. said as much during the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ (CSCMP) Edge conference, held virtually in late September. In an interview with CSCMP CEO Rick Blasgen, Valdez predicted a greater need for supply chain skills in retail organizations post-pandemic.
“Many more CEOs will come from supply chain [and] logistics backgrounds,” Valdez explained, emphasizing the discipline’s role in retailers’ success during the age of e-commerce.
Second, consumers have become partners in navigating one of the industry’s biggest challenges: last-mile delivery. 2020’s hyper-accelerated e-commerce activity created overwhelming demand for home delivery that was exacerbated during the holiday shopping season. As a result, home-based “logisticians” were encouraged to take the last mile into their own hands by opting for curbside and in-store pickup. No doubt most of them used a blend of those strategies to get through peak season—I know I did—and, as a result, think they understand the supply chain a little bit better.
In perhaps the most pointed example of how all this has hit home, a friend described an ultra-personal last-mile delivery she experienced just before Christmas. She’d been waiting for an overdue delivery from a major retailer, expected to arrive via one of the big three carriers. She was surprised one afternoon when a middle-aged woman in an SUV pulled into her driveway and hand delivered the much-awaited package. No, the woman wasn’t a gig-economy delivery driver. As it turned out, she, too, was awaiting an overdue delivery from that retailer and had received my friend’s package in error; it had been delivered to her address in a neighboring town. Rather than send it back via the carrier and incur more delays, the woman decided to put my friend’s address in her GPS and just “pop over and deliver it” herself. My friend was grateful; the package was a Christmas gift for her mother-in-law.
Before the woman left, she gave my friend her address and asked if she’d return the favor should her missing package mistakenly arrive on my friend’s doorstep. My friend agreed, of course. If there’s anything we home logisticians understand, it’s the importance of on-time delivery.
A year ago, my friend might have chalked this experience up to holiday-season goodwill and not given it another thought. But things are different now. Should a wrong delivery arrive, my friend says she’s prepared to go the last mile, GPS at the ready. After the year we’ve had, and with more than a fair bit of logistics experience under our belts, I’d like to think that most of us would do the same.