An unlikely source of supply chain insight? Perhaps. But rapper and actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges seems to have incidentally made some sharp observations about digital retail fulfillment and the evolving role that 3PLs are playing in meeting customer expectations.
The traditional walls between distributors, retailers and 3PLs are crumbling as the digital consumer continues to put pressure up the supply chain to meet their expectations of efficiency and visibility. So drawing from quotes by Ludacris and some excerpts from this latest The Great Supply Chain Podcast episode, let’s endeavor to understand the complexities facing retailers and their 3PL partners in a converging commerce landscape.
“Your fans, they count on you to make wise decisions and wise choices. That’s why they’re your fan base. If you continually let them down, they’re going to go find someone else to be fans of.” - Ludacris
Exactly! Fandom is based on trust. When they engage with your brand, they trust that you are going through the steps to fulfill your brand promise. And when the next retailer or brand is literally just a click away, the modern digital consumer will have a low threshold for being let down, wherever that breakdown exists. Guy doubles down on Ludacris’ insight by pointing out, “We expect a high level of service from anybody we interact with and we’re not going to place the blame on a distributor as opposed to a brand or a retailer. It’s all the same.”
Guy goes on to explain that those wise decisions and wise choices must also be consistent and sustainable: “It’s great that I can take your order, take your money, show your inventory, and build an online relationship with you. And then I better fulfill that order properly and profitably in order to make that sustainable.”
“I don’t want to be too over-exposed, but then at the same time I don’t want to be too out-of-sight-out-of-mind.” - Ludacris
The best supply chains are those that are working industriously in the background so that everything goes where it should, when it should, how it should. But the digital consumer is also more and more interested in having some visibility into the chain of custody of their stuff as they build relationships with those brands. Landfills heaped up with returns, inefficient use of packaging supplies and the massive environmental toll of last mile fulfillment are gaining mindshare in the conscious consumer, and Ludacris is right: Maintaining that healthy balance of visibility allows for better relationship building and loyalty.
Guy expands on this by adding, “This notion of convergence is the ease by which we can now communicate, interact and build relationships with the end consumer.” He continues: “Those walls have been shattered and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the ability of a brand or a retailer or distributor to interface with us has become almost seamless.”
“I’m a perfectionist, so I always feel there’s room for improvement.” - Ludacris
Ludacris must be referring to 3PLs. Guy, albeit less succinct, explains, “Savvy 3PLs will realize, ‘wait a minute, my responsibility isn’t just to move inventory from point A to point B. Maybe there’s a value-add service. Maybe I do some extra kitting. Maybe I accept returns. Maybe I use my fulfillment methodology as part of the experience.’”
As 3PLs seek out how they can improve their service levels in the context of convergence, Guy points out, “The smart ones will realize that just because you’re getting squeezed doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to seize by finding new ways to bring value to the equation.”
“I love technology. We can be our own DJs wherever we go.” - Ludacris
Technology empowers brands, retailers and their 3PL partners to handle more complexity and provide more options for their consumers to engage with them as buyers. And that technology, as Ludacris puts it, allows retailers to be their own fulfillment DJs; to orchestrate an omnichannel commerce ecosystem that fits that industry and those consumers.
As Guy explains, “Don’t go chasing a business model because someone else is doing XY and Z. If you don’t believe the business model makes sense for you, then don’t do it. Too many businesses, especially in this area of convergence, say ‘well, hey, Under Armour is going direct to consumer. I’m going to do the same thing.’” Instead, armed with the right supply chain technology, brands and retailers can move to the beat of their customer’s drum far more effectively.