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Hard-pressed retailers are going to have to get a great deal more creative when it comes to customer service, inventory and the order-to-cash cycle. Winning customers and keeping costs down will require much closer collaboration between trading partners, with a heavy emphasis placed on enabling companies of all sizes to exchange critical business data in a secure and reliable manner, and importantly, to integrate core business processes beyond the firewall.


There are new opportunities, facilitated by new technologies, should retailers care to look.


Direct-ship, or drop-ship as the Americans call it, is becoming highly important for retailers operating in a multi-channel environment. Getting suppliers to deliver to customers directly takes cost, inventory and time out of the supply chain for retailers and really comes into its own when goods are either very bulky or expensive.


The problem for retailers is that they lose visibility and control putting the order out to suppliers for direct delivery. Although most retailers have pretty slick internal systems for the whole order-to-cash cycle, they revert to antiquated techniques, such as faxes, when it comes to working outside the four walls of the enterprise.


However, there are web-based platforms out there using a software-as-a-service model that enable the live exchange of information between retailer and supplier which also links into the carrier to give real-time updates on scheduling. The great thing for customers is that this allows them to have a far tighter time-slot given to them and offers the retailer much greater control over the order-to-cash cycle for direct-ship operations.


Some smart web-based platforms are breaking new ground in co-ordinating direct-ship activities across multiple suppliers for consolidated deliveries to customers, bringing further efficiencies and benefits.


If retailers can gain the necessary visibility of orders processed outside their own firewalls then a whole range of opportunities open up.

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