Supply Chain Veteran Sees the Future of E-commerce Fulfillment

by Mike Cassidy

Knowing when an order leaves a warehouse and when it will arrive at a home is a key fulfillment-fueled customer experience.

Bob Trebilcock grew up on loading docks and in warehouses, tagging along on sales calls with his dad, who worked in the industrial packaging industry, an unglamorous field that is part of the backbone of U.S. manufacturing and distribution.

“I like to say that most dads took their kids to Disney World and my dad took me to the BorgWarner auto parts plant in Buffalo, New York,” Trebilcock says.

So, it’s not crazy that Trebilcock remains fascinated with supply chain and contemplating the challenges and solutions the backstage work presents for thousands of e-commerce retailers from California to Connecticut.

As editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review, Trebilcock has had an up-close view of the dizzying evolution of the process of moving goods and e-commerce orders from here to there. In the era of Amazon, when consumers expect retailers to deliver the goods fast and for free, the pressure on those mapping fulfillment strategy and those executing on those plans is ratcheted up every day.

We sat down with Trebilcock to talk about the changes he’s seen in supply chain and e-commerce delivery, where the fields are headed and how those working in e-commerce and distribution can keep up with the rocket ride of filling orders in the 21st century. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You’ve been around distribution for years and have been leading Supply Chain Management Review for the past four years. What sorts of changes have you seen in supply chain and delivery in even the past five or 10 years?

A:  The biggest change, in broad strokes, is more automation. We’re seeing much more automation. And it doesn’t feel like that’s going away. Everything has been exponential. For years, whenever you went from one point to the next, there was sort of a long period of stability. Now, everything has really started changing at a much faster pace.

There is much more complexity. Things aren’t offered in one size. The same product is offered in 15 or 20 different sizes. And there’s complexity, because for a variety of reasons on the retail side, stores don’t want a lot of inventory. So they just want a pallet that’s got 50 different items on it, and one or two examples of each item, versus a pallet with just one item on it.

And there’s complexity because you and I don’t…

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