Lumber Liquidators, one of the largest and fastest growing retailers of hardwood and laminate flooring in North America, announced this week that it is suspending all of its China sourced laminate flooring products. The announcement comes after the 60 Minutes investigative news television program turned a public light on suspected high levels of formaldehyde from certain China based flooring offered by this retailer. In our prior Supply Chain Matters commentary related to this incident, we expressed little doubt that the situation would continue to reverberate among business headlines, and so it has.
In its latest announcement, the retailer indicates:
“Based on the review to date, it appears that the Company’s Chinese laminate flooring suppliers have sold product to the Company that the suppliers have certified and labeled as compliant with California formaldehyde standards. However, the Company is further reviewing the underlying certification and labeling processes and practices of its suppliers.”
The retailer further indicates that a Special Committee composed of independent directors, with the assistance of third party advisors, has been conducting an ongoing review of allegations regarding laminate flooring sourced from China. That body has now engaged a former FBI director and his firm to review the retailer’s product sourcing practices and to serve as an independent compliance advisor.
Since the March disclosure by the 60 Minutes program, Lumber Liquidators began voluntarily offering free indoor air quality screening to certain of its flooring customers, predominately those who had purchased laminate flooring sourced from China. Home air test kits were selected as a quick means to measure the total level of formaldehyde in indoor air from all sources, not just from the flooring. This week’s release further indicates:
“From early March through May 1, 2015, BHC sent approximately 26,000 testing kits to nearly 15,000 Lumber Liquidators customers and approximately 11,000 of those testing kits were returned. As of May 1, 2015, over 3,400 testing kits from approximately 2,600 households with laminate flooring sourced from China had been reviewed and analyzed. Of those households, over 97% had indicated indoor air concentrations of formaldehyde that were within the guidelines set by the World Health Organization as protective against sensory irritation and long-term health effects.”
Lumber Liquidator’s swift actions and response are laudable, but as a supply chain and procurement community we all know, consumers will undoubtedly have their own impressions regarding the safety of flooring sourced from China. Thus, the action to temporarily suspend all sourcing of China based supply, pending a total independent review, makes practical and timely business sense.
To reiterate, beyond the Wall Street, shareholder and legal messiness, this incident is yet another example of the needs for transparency across the global supply chain, particularly when an individual country’s or state’s product safety standards are cited. As business media such as The Wall Street Journal is now reporting, there is no recognized national U.S. standard for indoor formaldehyde concentrations and global wide standards vary among agencies. Interpretation of standards can tend to take on a different lens from different suppliers and thus the need for vigilant and consistent supplier monitoring and risk awareness.
Earlier this week, global package delivery provider UPS reported its first quarter operating results and provided a succinct message to online e-commerce customer fulfillment providers that the provider will protect its profitability in servicing this segment. The results were far different than the disappointing news delivered for the end-of-year quarter and an indication that last-mile delivery strategies associated with online commerce are subject to increased cost changes and implications. These results are a further indication of the revenue and profitability boost brought about by the change to dimensional pricing of shipments, along with other operational changes.
For the March ending quarter, UPS reported an overall 1.4 percent increase revenues and an 11 percent increase in operating profit to $1.7 billion, demonstrating profitability increases across all operating segments. Results for U.S. based operations reflected a 5.3 percent increase in revenues while profits rose over 10 percent to $1.02 billion. U.S. Domestic Package revenues, where dimensional pricing went into effect, experienced a 3.8 percent increase in revenues.
Total shipments increased 2.8 percent to 1.1 billion packages reportedly led by European export growth of 9.4 percent. No doubt, that was an indication of a positive impact from the increasing value of the U.S. dollar, allowing European goods to be more price-attractive in export markets such as the United States. For the quarter, UPS generated $2.4 billion in free cash flow. UPS raised rates and increased fuel surcharges across the board at the beginning of the year.
Brown further announced that it has declined to renew contracts with “a couple of substantial customers” whose business was not profitable enough, especially concerning e-commerce shipments. While UPS executives declined to name any specific customers, in its reporting, The Wall Street Journal indicated that children’s toys retailer Toys “R” Us was one of those customers. Reportedly, UPS raised it rates, prompting this retailer to move to FedEx in February. We would surmise that other customers were well-known e-tailors as well.
Further announced was an increase in the number of Access Point locations where online customers can pick up their purchases themselves, thus decreasing the number of overall package trips for UPS’s last-mile delivery efforts. UPS executives were quick to point out that the carrier’s business goal was not to just increase costs for its customers but rather to facilitate improved efficiencies in shipping methods and packaging of shipments. Obviously, industry supply chain teams accountable for transportation costs and delivering cost reduction goals will likely have a far different perspective.
As Supply Chain Matters observed in our June 2014 commentary, dimensional pricing implied a major revisit of packaging and transportation practices for bulky items as well as policies related to free shipping. With recent operating results from both FedEx and UPS now indicating a renewed focus on carrier profitability, the implications are indeed broader from both shipper and carrier perspectives, especially in the light of online consumer preferences for same-day or Sunday delivery. Shippers and especially e-tailors will be responding with revised practices to protect their operating costs and margins. The overall effect can either be a different, more efficient delivery fulfillment process that emphasizes customer pick-up or the development of more innovative delivery strategies. The U.S. Postal Service as well as up and coming logistics disruptors may well benefit.
Supply Chain Matters continues to anticipate that major online retailers will initiate a different form of planning for the 2015 holiday fulfillment surge later this year, and that will be how to balance continuing consumer preferences for free shipping with the new realities of higher parcel shipping and logistics costs. New or different business models and strategies will continue to emerge in the coming months as this dynamic unfolds and both B2B as well as B2C shippers need to be prepared for such industry changes.
© 2015 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the supply Chain Matters© blog. All rights reserved.
Today’s business headlines include the reporting of Amazon’s latest operating results for the March-ending Q1 quarter. The global online provider and Omni-channel disruptor reported a net sales increase of 15 percent to $22.7 billion, but also a net loss of $57 million. There was a $1.3 billion unfavorable impact related to foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter. Operating expenses increased nearly 75 percent, prompting The Wall Street Journal to opine that: “Amazon again spent nearly all the money it took in.”
In essence, Amazon is spending and investing in all forms of projects and today’s predominantly short-term focused investors are growing ever more impatient with the timing of a big reward. Once more, Amazon has forecasted the potential of an operating loss, or small profit gain for its upcoming quarter.
An area that has captured Wall Street’s attention is revelations about the often secretive cloud computing support Amazon Web Services (AWS) business operating unit which was finally revealed. AWS revenues were reported as $1.57 billion in the quarter, up a whopping 49 percent, and at an annual run rate of nearly $5-6 billion for the year. Once more, this has been in a fiercely competitive sector with many global enterprise technology players duking it out for market-share dominance. Once more, operating margins for AWS are tracking at nearly 17 percent compared to nearly 4 percent for retail online fulfillment. Retail fulfillment continues to have pressures related to distribution center rollouts as well as the net effects of free shipping offered to Amazon Prime customers.
The high AWS product margins categorizes this business as growing faster than Amazon’s online fulfillment business, although considerably smaller overall, but the difference in margins have now captured the interest of Wall Street, and most likely the community of activist investors.
Among online customer fulfillment highlights for the march-ending quarter were:
- The launching of both Amazon Dash Button, a small button that Amazon Prime customers can place in their home to automatically reorder frequently used products. Supply Chain Matters recently called attention to Procter & Gamble as one key participant in this program, which might have prompted a reaction from Wal-Mart.
- A complimentary offering, Dash Replenishment Service (DRS) enables connected devices to directly order replenishment supplies. Early participants in DRS include Brother, Brita Quirky and Whirlpool.
- The launching of Amazon Home Services, a new marketplace for on-demand professional pre-packaged services
- Amazon’s Prime buying service celebrated its tenth anniversary with tens of millions of members across the globe.
- The opening by Amazon China of an Amazon International retail store on Tmall, featuring thousands of imported products and an expansion of Amazon Global Store offered in China to over one million items.
A common and troubling theme in today’s U.S. business climate has been activist investors surrounding well-recognized internally focused producers including names such as Apple, DuPont, Procter & Gamble and others. The HJ Heinz-Kraft Foods acquisition announcement continues to have far reaching implications for other consumer product goods producers and their respective supply chains.
The question now becoming apparent is whether Amazon’s growth track record contrasted to profitability performance opens the door to activist actions as well, particularly when it concerns the potential of AWS.
What’s your view? Will Wall Street activist investors surround Amazon as-well?
© 2015 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters© blog. All rights reserved.
Recent postings appearing on the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Mother Jones note that the industrial processes used to make our jeans and sweatshirts require loads of water, dirty energy, and chemicals, which often get dumped into the rivers and air surrounding factories in developing countries. China of course, is a major global source of fabric production. According to the NRDC, almost 20 percent of the world’s industrial water pollution comes from the textile industry, and China’s textile factories, which produce half of the clothes bought in the United States, emit 3 billion tons of soot a year.
NRDC recently hosted an award ceremony in Shanghai to recognize 33 Chinese textile mills which completed NRDC’s Clean By Design program in 2014. Four prominent apparel retailers and brands, Target, Gap Inc., Levi Strauss and Co., and H&M participated in the program, handing out certificates of achievement and inducting some star mills into a newly created Clean by Design Hall of Fame.
The effort to get to this point is described as starting five years ago under the umbrella of green supply chain initiatives, providing practical tools to reduce production and environment impact while saving money. Today, NRDC’s Ten Best Practices provides what are described as practical improvements, low cost and offering quick payback for producers.
In terms of results, NRDC indicates that its Clean By Design practices delivered, on average, savings of $440,000 in the first year, with the top five mills saving more than $880,000 – with a payback time (return on investment) of only 14 months.
The NRDC blog posting further describes efforts underway to increase awareness to broader amount of skeptical fabric and textile mills in China as well as to involve more global based buyer brands as sponsors.
Since getting the word out is important to this effort, Supply Chain Matters is pleased to spread awareness of this program to our global and China based readers. We also extend our Tip of the Hat to those retailers who are actively supporting these current efforts.
Survey of Retail and CPG CEO’s Reflects Today’s Realities of Higher Costs Associated With Online Customer Fulfillment
A new joint study of senior retail and CPG industry CEO’s conducted by PwC under the sponsorship of JDA Software confirms what many in our supply chain community have believed; the increasing profitability challenges being brought about by the higher costs associated to today’s online customer fulfillment demands.
This study, The Omni Channel Fulfillment Imperative, reinforces that an enormous amount of money, energy and time is being spent by retailers and consumer goods manufacturers to improve their Omni-channel fulfillment capabilities. While this may not be surprising given the current business environment, the report reveals an unexpected and disturbing fact: only 16 percent of companies openly indicate that they can fulfill Omni-channel demand profitably.
The survey itself included a reported 410 retail and consumer goods companies from eight different countries. The authors included some CPG company’s views in order to gain perspectives from both ends of the customer fulfillment supply chain, along with the reality that may CPG firms have increased their direct online fulfillment presence. Nearly 51 percent of responses were reportedly weighted toward the classification of top 250-1000 retailers, while 22 percent represented the top 250 retailers.
Supply Chain Matters had the opportunity to speak with Wayne Usie, Senior Vice President of Retail Industry at JDA Software about this study and its messages. Usie aptly pointed out that most retailers remain optimistic for top line revenue growth, they are acknowledging that their firms originally designed their supply chains around the bulk movement of goods from suppliers, through distribution centers and eventually to stores and consumers. Today’s business demands of Omni-channel and online customer fulfillment require a far different set of capabilities. The other important insight is that in their original design that emphasized distribution center centric flows, retail supply chains can often mask the true source of customer channel demand. That has a significant influence on how to plan and efficiently position inventory associated with today’s Omni-channel dynamics.
From our lens, other important perspectives brought forward by this study was the indication by 71 percent of CEO’s polled that Omni-channel fulfillment was a top priority for retail business. Keep in mind that merchandising and sales strategies have often been top priorities for retail businesses. This different perspective, we believe, is the new reality of online and Omni-channel reflecting that the fulfillment supply chain has become an important focus.
Other profound findings were the indication that 67 percent of CEO’s believe that the cost to fulfill orders across channels is increasing, and that 88 percent (a near total consensus) cited transportation and logistics as a fulfillment capability that needs the most attention. Supply Chain Matters believes that this is a reflection of the continued high costs trending of free or same-day shipping that is impacting retail supply chains, especially those with lower product margins. Much of the survey data reflects the threats brought about by global online retailers such as Amazon, Wal-Mart. The major global package carrier’s increase in rates and the shift to dimensional-based freight pricing this year has not helped and probably added even more concerns and needs for alternative methods.
Question 9 of this survey queered on likely internal challenges likely to occur over the next 12 months. Indications were remarkably equally balanced and also from our lens, point to many supply chain related implications including inventory management, effectively integrating physical stores with online business models and failing to consistently meet customer expectations across all channels. Reflecting on such a listing, we believe that the data is yet another revealing indication that not all customers can have the same fulfillment service-level dimensions, hence the need for more discernable supply chain segmentation strategies, aligned to expected customer service and business profitability needs.
The complete PwC Survey as well as a summary infographic can be accessed at this web link. (some registration information required). A further perspective of the survey can be garnered in a posting authored by Wayne Usie on JDA’s Supply Chain Nation blog.
Supply Chain Matters will reflect more on the effects of Omni-channel retail in our live coverage of the upcoming JDA FOCUS 2015 conference occurring later this month.
Disclosure: JDA Software is a Lead sponsor of the Supply Chain Matters blog and a client of its parent, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC.
The term Predictive Commerce has been brought forward in the context of connecting up and downstream, Omni-channel product demand sensing with an integrated, single-model, end-to-end supply chain planning and execution. In some sense, it can be viewed as an enhanced iteration of demand-driven supply chain response capability for complex distribution and long-tail product demand environments. Supply Chain Matters is of the view that this capability warrants further consideration by supply chain and sales and operations planning (S&OP) teams, in the context of a transformative effort requiring careful thought and investment.
Predictive Commerce was most recently brought forward in a recent published white paper from supply chain planning technology provider ToolsGroup, titled Predictive Commerce: Helping Companies Return to Growth.
This paper defines such capability as:
“Predictive Commerce is a strategy that enables this shift (in planning methodologies) and revolutionizes the way companies think, see and plan their end-to-end supply chain. It connects supply chain strategy, planning and execution into an end-to-end planning process. The key technology enabler is a single underlying model”
This paper describes examples of predictive commerce applications that include real-time product demand sensing linked to dynamic replenishment processes. The example brought forward is a large coffee shop brand, namely Costa Express, leveraging machine telemetry feeds from 3000 self-dispensing coffee machines to trigger coffee bean, cups and flavored syrup replenishment needs among supporting distribution replenishment centers. In another retail industry example, product demand sensing is linked to dynamic replenishment and product segmentation to minimize last mile delivery costs by utilizing existing channel inventories. A further example is connecting product demand sensing and predictive orders with the needs for transportation capacity and optimization.
We concur and re-iterate that the most important takeaway for industry supply chain teams to ponder is that Predictive Commerce or other similar type capabilities that fuse supply chain planning and execution in a single information model require a transformative strategy that brings together such capabilities. This is particularly important in an environment where legacy applications or ERP backbone systems were implemented under the notions of planning and execution being two separate hierarchical processes and data sets that fed different information streams back and forth. Today’s Omni-channel and online fulfillment demand streams are far more concentrated in SKU level and location specific planning and execution dimensions. That implies a single data model with far more granular data and information streams as well as requirements to plan inventory investments at multiple tiers of the supply chain.
The good news is that advanced information technology now available in today’s marketspace can provide such capabilities in a less disruptive manner. A single data model approach opens far more enhanced capabilities in leveraging analytics and deeper supply-chain wide intelligence. It further paves the way for the ability to leverage more predictive and prescriptive planning methods for supporting near real-time customer fulfillment execution requirements.
In addition to technology, there are important people and business process elements to consider in such a transformation. Business processes, whether internal or externally focused, need to be well understood by all participants and have an “outside-in” perspective. Deep collaboration among customers and suppliers is essential. Do not neglect the change management and skills impact for people in managing an overall supply chain environment. Especially those that are driven by complex by faster-moving, exception-driven events vs. day-to-day sequential business processes.
Predictive Commerce can indeed be a meaningful competitive differentiating capability for distribution and online fulfillment sensitive supply chains. Such a capability requires a transformative strategy, often aligned with supply chain segmentation. It is indeed a “crawl-walk-run strategy anchored in people, process and advanced technology.
© 2015 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.
Disclosure: ToolsGroup is a current client of Supply Chain Matters ® parent, the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC.