The Importance of a Flexible Supply Chain for Ecommerce Stores

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that having a flexible, global supply chain is incredibly important for normal business operations. Having a single point of failure can mean disaster when unexpected disruptions occur, but developing a flexible supply chain on a global scale can be challenging. 

EcommOps have dedicated years to helping businesses develop supply chains that are nimble, quick to react to change, and still run cost-effectively. Below, we’ll talk about how to build a flexible supply chain leveraging direct-from-China fulfillment, the benefits of a flexible, global supply chain, and why EcommOps is your best supply chain partner!

What is a Flexible Supply Chain?

There’s several ways you could define a flexible supply chain, so we’ll make it clear what we’re talking about in this article. A flexible supply chain is one that incorporates multiple fulfillment and shipping methods to avoid single-point failures that are easily disrupted by major supply chain events. 

Supply chain disruption

For example, if the only way you source inventory is through bulk ordering and freight shipping, your supply chain isn’t very flexible. The past few years have shown many companies just how inflexible their supply chain was, be it major disruptions from the Suez Canal blockage, to historic shipping congestion during Q4 of 2021

You can recognize a flexible, global supply chain if it has the following qualities:

  • Reliable suppliers
  • Fulfillment options outside of bulk ordering to local warehouses
  • The ability to quickly respond to unexpected high or low demand
  • Resilience against issues like port congestion and freight shipping disruptions

One of the best ways EcommOps has found to help clients create a flexible supply chain that is resilient to disruptions is leveraging direct-from-China fulfillment. It’s a supply chain strategy that can be used alongside traditional bulk ordering that allows businesses to react to fluctuations in consumer demand without over or understocking inventory. 

What Are the Benefits of a Flexible Supply Chain?

When you leverage direct-from-China fulfillment while planning the supply chain of a company, you’ll have access to benefits that simply aren’t available when you use a traditional supply chain with single points of failure. 

Faster Reactions to Demand Changes

While the disruptions in the supply chain have leveled out for now, consumer demand will always be fickle. Even in Q4, where demand can be expected to be high, it can be tough to determine exactly how high demand will be. Since shipping lines and ports can become congested in Q4, businesses typically have to decide early whether to over or under stock. 

Incorporating China fulfillment into your supply chain processes eliminates the “should I risk buying too much or too little” dilemma. If you use a China supplier, the factory will ship products to your China fulfillment warehouse in just a single day. This means you can fulfill orders with products with very little lead time from the factory. 

China warehouses

That short lead time means you only need to plan for days of inventory instead of weeks or months. If demand ends up being higher than expected, your business can simply order more products from your supply partner to meet demand. If demand is lower than expected, you’ll only be sitting on a few days of inventory instead of months of inventory. 

Lower Inventory Risk

Along the lines of being able to react quickly to demand changes, your inventory risk will be far, far lower. Direct-from-China fulfillment allows businesses to invest less in upfront inventory, since you can place smaller, more frequent orders with your supplier. Smaller orders means less money tied up in inventory, allowing for the flexibility to focus resources elsewhere as needed. 

Increased Customer Satisfaction

A flexible supply chain means your products are available more consistently to customers who want to buy. The last thing any business wants is to have a winning product that immediately sells out and to have factors outside of your control disrupting your supply enough that you can’t restock inventory. 

Whether it’s unexpected demand during Q4, or historic disruptions, being able to continue to sell products is key to building a loyal customer base. 

Easier Product Iterations

If you’re just getting started with your brand, you’re likely to start with a generic product (even big brands like BlendJet and Hismile originally started with generic products). However, what sets successful brands from ones that are dead in the water is their ability to create product iterations to shift from a generic item to something that is truly their own.

Customer satisfaction on a product

A flexible supply chain with China fulfillment makes creating product iterations much, much faster. After you collect feedback from customers on what improvements need to be incorporated, you can quickly have your suppliers make the new products, and those products can quickly be sent to your China warehouse and fulfilled to customers. 

Then, businesses can collect feedback on the new product design, incorporate new improvements, and quickly relaunch again. Having a rigid supply chain, specially one anchored to bulk order and large freight shipping, can’t match the pace of iterations like using China fulfillment can. 

How to Create a Global, Flexible Supply Chain

Now that we know why it’s important to have a flexible supply chain, as well as how China fulfillment is a key part to a global, flexible supply chain, let’s take a look at the general steps of how to create your ideal, efficient supply chain:

Connect with Trusted China Suppliers

Any supply chain starts with your suppliers, and if your suppliers can’t keep up with your needs, your supply chain will always struggle. Make sure you choose a supplier that:

  • Are clear communicators
  • Have the engineering capabilities to make your products and potential iterations
  • Have the capacity to scale with your growing demand
  • Meet regulatory requirements for your products

If you’re struggling to find a supplier in China that can meet your needs, you can look to a third party sourcing specialist, or you can reach out to EcommOps! 

Connect with a High-Quality China Fulfillment Center

Once you know your suppliers are set, you need a fulfillment partner that’s a good match for your business. You have a lot of options for fulfillment providers, but a few good qualities to look for include:

  • They offer the specific fulfillment services you need
  • They are able to ship your specific product (which may be an issue for niche products or hazardous products)
  • They can support multiple supply chain strategies, like crowdfunding fulfillment.

If you’re not sure where to start looking for a China fulfillment center, contact us! EcommOps is the leader in direct-from-China fulfillment, and if our services aren’t a good match for you, we can help you connect with a fulfillment center that is better suited for your needs. 

Develop a Hybrid Fulfillment Strategy For Maximum Supply Chain Flexibility

Hybrid supply chain

Finally, when your suppliers and fulfillment center are decided, you need to develop a supply chain strategy that provides results. We have found that one of the most consistently successful supply chain strategies for our clients is using both China fulfillment and traditional bulk ordering. This is how it looks:

  • Companies still place large volume orders with suppliers and ship them sea freight (since this is still the most cost effective method of getting products). 
  • Local warehouses fulfill orders from bulk ordered inventory.
  • As local warehouses run low on inventory, your China fulfillment center takes over, fulfilling customer orders (with no interruption). 
  • When local warehouses are restocked, you can switch back to local fulfillment until local inventory runs low again. 

Strategies like hybrid fulfillment make for an exceptionally flexible supply chain, allowing for businesses to navigate sudden changes in consumer demand, as well as unexpected challenges, like major disruptions to sea freight delivery. 

Challenges to a Hybrid Fulfillment Strategy

A flexible supply chain has more moving parts than a ridgid one, which means it’s more complex. That complexity brings challenges that businesses need to be prepared to face:

  • Make sure you know when to fulfill orders from what warehouse: If you don’t have a clear system of which warehouse is fulfilling what orders, it can cause huge headaches. You could end up double-fulfilling orders, missing orders entirely, or providing incorrect expectations to customers on when their orders should arrive. 
  • Make sure your online store can support hybrid fulfillment: If your online platform can’t handle hybrid fulfillment (or your fulfillment center can’t handle it), it will spell disaster if you try to implement this strategy. The easiest solution is to make sure your fulfillment partner can create the necessary back-end systems to make this seamless.
Fulfillment center in China

EcommOps: The Leader in a Flexible, China Supply Chain

It’s easy to see the benefits of making sure you have a flexible supply chain, but it’s not so easy to create a strategy that’s right for your business and to implement it. If you’re looking for a fulfillment partner that is also the leading experts in China supply chain management, then consider partnering with EcommOps.

Reach out to us today, and we’ll take a look at your business needs and goals to determine if our services are a good fit for your business. 

Supply Chain FAQs

1. What are the challenges to building a flexible, global supply chain?

There are several challenges to successfully establishing a flexible, global supply chain. Some of those challenges include:

  • Unreliable suppliers: If your suppliers are inconsistent, have quality control issues, or can’t scale with your business growth, your supply chain will suffer.
  • Low-quality fulfillment centers: You need a fulfillment center you can trust in order to have a flexible supply chain. This means that your fulfillment center should have appropriate warehousing space, good relationships with the best courier lines, and the ability to meet your specific fulfillment needs.
  • Managing hybrid fulfillment options: Once you set up different fulfillment options to avoid a single point of failure in your supply chain, it can be challenging to manage them. You need a system that your China fulfillment partner can integrate with that can determine which of your warehouses fulfill orders at what time in order to avoid double fulfillment or missing orders entirely.

2. Is it possible to have a supply chain that isn’t reliant on sea freight shipping?

Yes. In fact, one of the best ways to create a flexible supply chain is to avoid complete reliance on sea freight shipping (or even to avoid it altogether). Many of our clients who used to use U.S. fulfillment have moved away from it entirely in favor of China fulfillment because of the flexibility it offers.

In particular, companies that use China fulfillment are better able to respond to fluctuating demand, tie up less resources in inventory, and avoid common supply chain problems, like port congestion.

3. How can EcommOps help to create a flexible supply chain for my company?

Our specialty is to leverage China fulfillment, so our clients have supply chains that are resilient and flexible. EcommOps is able to use China fulfillment in this way because:

  • Businesses only need to plan for days of inventory, not months, which frees up resources to invest in other areas of their business.
  • Orders that are fulfilled in a China warehouse don’t get caught up in port congestion or customs issues like sea or air freight orders can, which makes shipping times more consistent.
  • We develop hybrid fulfillment options for our clients, so if there’s a delay or disruption with one fulfillment option (like local fulfillment), the China warehouse can continue to fulfill orders without any kind of major delay.

If you’re interested in making your supply chain more flexible, reach out to us, and our experts will get started on creating a fulfillment strategy that includes a resilient, flexible supply chain.

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