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E-Commerce Explosion and Supply Chain Shortages

New Year, New Challenges

This year, H&M Bay will celebrate its 40th anniversary. Although we are certainly proud of where we started, what excites us more is where we are going and solving the challenges we face. Most notably, since the start of the pandemic, the supply chain industry has taken a hit. It is not just an issue that we face, but affects everyone in the industry, and also impacts every single consumer in America. 

The industry is an ever-evolving one that constantly sees innovation; it must. There is always a way to get the job done more efficiently. The supply chain is revolutionized by technology and pairing it along with human beings, there is no telling what can be achieved. However, to fully understand where the supply chain industry is headed, it is essential to reflect on what occurred.

The Arrival of COVID

Backtracking to March 2020, the arrival of COVID-19 and the country-wide lock-down cast a large, dark cloud over the world. It marked the start of a new chapter in history, one we are all working through together. As a result, the industry is now combatting challenges that include trucker shortages, inflation, and rising gas prices.  

“The past two years have been the most challenging years we have ever had. After a lot of hard work, we have found ways to continue to serve our customers,” said Walt Messick III, Chief Operating Officer of H&M Bay.

E-Commerce Explosion Turns Supply Chain Upside Down 

During the initial lockdown, our industry business model changed before our very eyes. A significant portion of LTL freight was with restaurants and schools, so when they shut down, it turned our business upside down. Moreover, while we did have an online presence, it was not to the magnitude it is today, and we have since adapted to a more online business environment which included an updated website, digitized forms, expanded cybersecurity measures, an elevated extranet offering for our customers as well as an adjustment to our traditional sales approach.

“First, when everything closed, there was nothing shipping except retail. I worked hour after hour looking for any business, but I brought on more business in the first year of the pandemic than in my previous 14 years,” said Crystal Cheney, a national sales accounts manager at H&M Bay, Inc.

In addition to the rising costs of the supply chain, the length of time it takes to ship a container through major U.S. ports has now tripled compared to pre-pandemic speed, according to the National Retail Federation. As a result of the increased shipping time, wait times of the shipping containers can take up to two weeks to dock at a port. These problems are real and they aren’t going anywhere. However, with evolving technology such as real-time tracking of shipments, there is hope that technology can solve these disruptions.

Battling Labor Shortages

In today’s supply chain market, many jobs are available, which typically is a sign of encouragement. However, warehouses are in constant search of staff to help largely due to the pandemic. Workers have decided to change their careers or retire. 

“Recruiting and retaining talent in warehouses and transportation companies is one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing,” said Matthew Ott, president, and CEO of the Global Cold Chain Association

The implementation of advanced technology such as robotics is helping aid the shortage of workers. However, technology alone will not be sufficient. Workers cannot be duplicated like technology can. 

Future of Supply Chain and Solving It

The pandemic has re-emphasized the importance of working as efficiently as possible. To do so, companies have begun to use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things to do all things supply chain related. Companies that have chosen to implement the technology are fairing better than those operating manually.

Statistically speaking, according to Interact Analysis, robotics alone was responsible for 32% of warehouse automation new product launches in 2021. Additionally, mobile robots used within warehouses are expected to account for more than 30% of overall warehouse automation equipment sales by 2030.

Undeniably, the pandemic disrupted the supply chain industry. However, the future remains promising, and technologies have been deployed to help combat this issue. Companies understand that now more than ever, action must be taken to solve the issues as they are not something that can be swept away.

An additional task is to properly promote the supply chain industry to those who want to enter the field. It is a complicated formula that has yet to be figured out.

The innovative minds behind the technologies will help combat the disruptions of natural disasters, ransomware attacks, and internet outages. These problems are real and to pair them with driver shortages seems even more challenging. However, despite all the tests the supply chain faces, innovative technologies will continue to create a better, more efficient future and H&M Bay plans to continue to be at the forefront, pioneering change for its industry.

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