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Four Strategies for Supply Chain Risk Management

During black swan events like coronavirus, flexible and agile supply chains can help organizations minimize risk and disruption.

  • Create contingency plans: Start with scenario planning strategies for different demand environments
  • Mitigate supply shock: Work closely with existing suppliers while diversifying the supply base 
  • Manage demand volatility: Manage panic buying situations while taking on a responsible retailer role
  • Make work safe: Invest in protective gear for supply chain workers and communicate via apps to manage time, availability and safety

While the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has worn off in many countries, its domino effect on the global supply chain has continued to cause massive disruptions across industries and regions.

How can businesses face a global supply chain crisis and prepare for other catastrophes?

Understanding the full scope of a crisis, identifying potential outcomes and implementing risk management strategies can help organizations feel more confident in their growth and satisfy customer needs at the same time.

Most importantly, acquiring data and modern technological tools can create visibility across the supply chain and, in turn, promote agility and flexibility during unexpected events.

“Retailers around the world are still figuring out the appropriate supply chain risk management strategies for their employees, customers and their business,” said Hilding Anderson, head of retail strategy for North America at Publicis Sapient. “For many, the pandemic has shaped into a once-in-a-generation test of business continuity, planning and supply chain flexibility.”

Preparing for supply chain disruptions

Events that have a very high impact on the market but have a very low probability of materialization—otherwise known as “black swan events”—make short-term and long-term consequences like panic buying, work shortages or limited supply hard to measure definitively. However, there are measures organizations can take that can help navigate risk when black swan events occur—and as they unfold.

Supply chain contingency plans as a top priority

Organizations should start with scenario planning strategies, where different demand environments are considered across the entire supply chain. While different organizations face unique risks, companies should develop plans for both optimistic and worst-case situations. From climate-induced deadly weather events to SARs-like global pandemics, major supply chain shocks are likely to occur again in the future and retailers have the ability to prepare now.

Strategies at a Glance

- Create contingency plans

- Mitigate supply shock

- Manage demand volatility

- Make work safe

Mitigating supply chain shock

In the short term, companies can work with existing suppliers to make a business continuity plan. Businesses should identify suppliers in different regions to diversify the supply chain and safeguard against shortages, especially for products with longer supply cycles.

Source materials nearshore

Balancing sourcing resilience and flexibility with cost was already on the list for many retailers, according to Anderson. With the desire for more personalized, customizable products and more speed, opportunities exist in sourcing nearshore as well as offshore.

Almost 9 in 10 (88%) of small and midsize supply chain professionals have plans to switch at least some of their suppliers to ones closer to the U.S., according to a recent Gartner survey, and 45% plan to switch all of them.

"Increased global conflict is another reason for retailers to consider introducing more supplier flexibility," Anderson said.

Link data sets across your supplier network

Aggregating data from third-party partners allows visibility into stock movement across the supply chain network and can pinpoint potential roadblocks. For example, if inventory is delayed when crossing the border, organizations can put contingency plans in place to address the issues and accelerate outcomes.

“Can you link your data sets from your supply and your demand across your internal network and across the supplier network?” Anderson asked. “From there, you can then start measuring various scenarios and identifying where rapid intervention could be done."

Use digital twins to simulate demand and supply

In the longer term, companies would benefit from using enterprise digital twin solutions that can simulate demand and supply from end to end within and across the enterprise.

“Technologies that provide inventory visibility across the distribution network (e.g., distribution centers, stores, vendors, third-party providers and wholesale inventory) offer major benefits for flexibility and transparency to serve customers in the best way possible given supply limitation,” Anderson said.

"For many, COVID was a once-in-a-generation test of business continuity, planning and supply chain flexibility.”

Hilding Anderson , Head of Retail Strategy, North America, Publicis Sapient

Supply chain risk management strategies to manage demand volatility

In the short term, halting promotions, prioritizing products and creating inventory reserves are other strategies to help manage demand when supply is limited.

Nielsen data showed that sales of oat milk, surgical masks, first-aid kits and other non-perishables spiked throughout late February 2020 in response to coronavirus fears.

These “panic buying” scenarios—where certain items spiked in demand—led to some price gouging both in-store and online as supplies became more limited. Amazon was ineffective in restricting marketplace sellers from increasing prices as much as 2,000 percent.

Some companies instead took on the role of “responsible retailer.” Tesco, for example, was one of a handful of supermarkets participating in a “Feed the Nation” contingency plan, working with suppliers to control demand while creating a positive image in the minds of their consumers.

But what can retailers do when the economic tables turn?

Anticipating fluctuating consumer demand

As retailers and consumers faced the brunt of inflation—experiencing higher materials and fuel costs as well as disruptions to supply chains—profit margins decreased and inventories became overstocked.

Logistical changes to improve operations or product offering updates can help businesses mitigate profit loss. Retailers should link supply to consumer demand within the business and allow trusted suppliers to have full demand visibility.

Use AI demand planning tools

On a broader scale, AI/ML-based demand planning tools using big data and hot data sets should be leveraged to aggregate metrics like weather and seasonal shopping habits, allowing for stronger predictive models in preparation for decreases or increases in consumer demand and overall supply chain management.

Chat-based AI tools like ChatGPT will also become useful for suppliers and businesses to quickly query where exactly products are across the supply chain in real-time.

"Next-generation tools will play a critical role in helping supply chain managers have an ongoing view of potential risks and provide a framework to help take corrective actions to better serve their customers."

Hilding Anderson , Head of Retail Strategy, North America, Publicis Sapient

Improving safety and health in global supply chains

Equipping employees who handle food, logistics or delivery with personal protective equipment (PPE) can help keep workers and consumers safe in outbreak situations like COVID-19. Stocking up on PPE supplies early on can help mitigate the risk of shortages over extended periods of time, especially if global supplies are strained due to lockdowns or restrictions.

Technologies like internal third-party logistics and employee applications can also be used to monitor staff availability and shipment options while streamlining onboarding procedures for new workers.

“Enable new staff to be onboarded, trained and be work-ready, with assistive intelligence technology along with the promise of a protective environment,” Anderson said.

Harnessing technology to prepare for an unprecedented future

While global supply chains are still experiencing the aftershock of COVID-19, it’s time for leaders to take stock and create long-term risk management strategies for unprecedented future global crises.

Scenario planning, diversifying suppliers, investing in supply chain visibility and making work safe help organizations maintain customer and employee experiences during supply chain shocks.

“New versions of established tools will play a critical role in helping supply chain managers have an ongoing view of potential risks and provide a framework to help take corrective actions to better serve their customers,” Anderson said.

Hilding Anderson
Hilding Anderson
Head of Retail Strategy, NA