A bad experience with a sofa purchase taught me a lot about supply chain visibility.
In October I went to a well-known sofa shop in London where I ordered what was the only sofa that would get down our narrow stairs and into to our basement flat. It comes in pieces, which is how they get it in. There were many fabrics to choose from and I chose a velvet pattern. They assured me it would be ready before Christmas.
Six weeks after the order was placed I received a voicemail from the shop saying that it was URGENT I call them as soon as possible. The frantic salesperson told me that my chosen fabric was out of stock, so my sofa would not be with me until January, "with luck."
Now, I know for a fact (because they told me so) that all of their sofas are pre-manufactured and all they had to do was to get the fabric from the supplier to the workshop, where someone would upholster the sofa.
It took the company nearly six weeks to find out that the fabric had not, in fact, even made it to the workshop. And they were still not sure when it would get there. I was not amused.
I asked her: “Is there no way for you to track each order to be sure it is on schedule?”
She said: “We have 200 fabric suppliers and 25,000 sofas ordered for Christmas. We cannot keep track of every fabric supplier.”
She said that the retail shops had NO CONTROL OR INSIGHT after they placed an order. Only head office knew where an order was in the supply chain at any given time. After another two weeks passed with no word as to the whereabouts of my sofa, I got a call from the manager of the shop.
She said: “Your sofa is going to be delivered tomorrow.”
I was shocked. “It’s ready? Tomorrow is impossible, what about Friday?”
Then she made a big mistake: “I’m afraid we have no slots tomorrow, it is almost Christmas and we are very busy.”
A verbal altercation ensued, which I won, and my sofa was delivered on the Saturday before Christmas.
Ten weeks of frustration. Why? Because neither the sofa showroom nor the head office had any visibility into the supply chain.
As I told the showroom manager, the solution was obvious:
- They need real-time supply chain management, from factory to suppliers to retail outlets.
- Fabric and other “parts” suppliers should be part of the real-time supply chain system, using RFID, etc. for tracking.
- Head office and ALL showrooms should have access to real-time tracking online, so they can update customers.
- Real-time alerts should tell showrooms when there is an issue, and when it is likely to be resolved.
- An alert system should be built in to notify customers of delivery dates and order progress.
As my colleague Oliver Guy told me: “The problem is that retail supply chains are so complex, involving different systems internally with multiple vendors and a vast array of systems that handle different parts of the process. This ‘ecosystem’ complexity adversely impacts the customer experience.”
The complexity is not going away anytime soon. This is why it is more important than ever for customer-obsessed companies to consider technology that coordinates actions across this ecosystem - providing real-time visibility and automated intelligent responses to changing circumstances, said Oliver.
Then, maybe, the sofa companies of this world will not see negative blogs like this on high-profile websites. Customer experience is more than (eventually) getting a beautiful sofa. This particular company will not get my business again. And that should be the most worrying thing.