Shoppers flocked to online channels during 2020, with the pandemic lockdowns doubling online sales overall and quadrupling sales made directly through a brand’s website. You’d think companies would be happy with the boom—and they are. But they’ve also been finding it difficult to fulfill all those orders in the ways customers expect them to. In fact, you might be surprised to learn how many companies are struggling to deliver on the promise of ecommerce. According to recent research by leading logistics operator GEODIS and Accenture Interactive, few brands truly excel at the key logistics capabilities required to build and maintain successful ecommerce operations—and that puts them at risk of alienating all those customers who’ve been filling digital stores.

We surveyed 200 companies with an online presence and a network of stores, and annual revenue between $100 million and $20 billion. Our research included in-depth telephone interviews in the United States and Europe at the end of 2019, coupled with an online study in the two regions between May and June of 2020. Participating companies represented nine lines of business, including consumer electronics, fashion and sport, luxury, furnishings, body care, non-perishable food, home care, and games and toys.

The research revealed that half of surveyed brands (52%) believe their ecommerce potential is limited by their logistics capabilities, while more than three-quarters (76%) said improving the customer experience is their greatest long-term challenge. So, what do brands need to do to deliver happy customers? Let’s dig into some of the great insights this research uncovered.

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Half of surveyed brands (52%) believe their ecommerce potential is limited by their logistics capabilities, while more than three-quarters (76%) said improving the customer experience is their greatest long-term challenge.

 

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The surge in ecommerce: marketplaces versus own online stores

The study confirms the pandemic greatly accelerated online commerce growth. During lockdown, the percentage of all brands’ sales that were made online nearly doubled from 34% in 2019 to 65% in 2020. Of those online sales, a higher percentage came through marketplaces (38%) than brands’ own online stores (27%). But, that 27% is quadruple what brands sold through their own sites in 2019.

These figures point to a big dilemma for brands: They love to see more sales coming from their own stores because marketplaces collect a hefty fee in exchange for fulfilling orders (thus trimming margins). However, as noted earlier, most companies don’t feel their logistics capabilities can handle it. With a lack of resources and logistics infrastructures limiting their ability to fulfill online orders, they’re forced to rely on online marketplaces to reach a wider audience.

Ecommerce logistics struggles: lack of visibility is the biggest challenge

Most of the brands surveyed believe over-reliance on marketplaces isn’t viable for their business in the long term, and they’d like to tilt that balance toward owned ecommerce channels. But doing so creates sustainability and profitability challenges in last-mile logistics: A lot of packages being sent to the same streets, perhaps multiple times a day, means many more miles driven (and greater fuel consumption and emissions) as well as higher shipping costs that eat into the bottom line.

At the same time, brands also have ambitious objectives to improve the customer experience, offering greater shipping flexibility and simplifying returns which, with their current logistics capabilities, they struggle to do.

In fact, these capabilities’ overall lack of maturity across the 200 brands we studied suggest companies have a way to go. Based on responses from participating companies, our research assigned a “maturity score” to five logistics capabilities that are key to successful ecommerce operations: inventory visibility and order orchestration, agile distribution networks, transportation flexibility, IT and software optimization, and customer experience.

Brands averaged a middling score of 58 across all five capabilities, with one-third of brands earning “high maturity” scores of 67 or greater, one-third garnering “average maturity” scores of 51 to 66, and one-third getting “low maturity” scores of 50 or lower. While the rule of thumb is more mature companies deliver better customer experiences, even high-maturity brands tended to be unhappy with the quality of service they provide their online customers.

While we can point our finger at a lot of shortcomings, one critical one really stood out in our research: lack of real-time visibility. Just 16% of companies questioned can get real-time key performance indicators for their supply chain. This visibility is essential to ensuring product availability, offering a variety of shipping choices, and giving customers product shipping status. In a world where the customer is king, brands are struggling to ensure that the quality of customers’ delivery experience equals the quality of their buying experience—and this is a big reason why.

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While we can point our finger at a lot of shortcomings, one critical one really stood out in our research: lack of real-time visibility. 

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Keeping customers happy

Online shopping certainly isn’t going away. In fact, 2020 likely will prove to be the tipping point when ecommerce finally overtook shopping at physical stores as the dominant channel for good. That means brands need to gain more control over online shoppers—lure them away from marketplaces to their own sites—and over the all-important ecommerce experience. For that to happen, shoring up ecommerce logistics capabilities needs to be Job 1 on all brands’ agenda.

For more on this intriguing research, access the full report.

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See more Supply Chain & Operations insights.

Frank J. Meuwissen

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Supply Chain & Operations, Consumer Goods and Services Lead

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