Despite the continued success of e-commerce and online sales initiatives, the supply chain is seeing mounting challenges from delays, shortages, and beyond, all of which directly impact the consumer experience. In the face of these challenges, and other black swan events, it’s important to maintain transparency, especially with customers. They expect answers when they come calling, asking where their shipments or orders are, but you cannot provide them without the appropriate systems in place. More specifically, you’ll have no answers even for yourself without the right shipment tracking tools and technologies.

    Called proactive shipment tracking, sometimes smart tracking, it’s a flag-based supply chain status system, powered by modern technologies, that both delivers important shipment updates but also identifies potential anomalies — such as when a shipment carrier is delayed at the port(s). It’s sophisticated, and digitally driven, and can sometimes require a significant investment, especially for traditional operators. Knowing that, a pertinent question is how these kinds of shipment tracking systems impact customer experience? Are they worth the investment?

    Shipment Tracking and Consumer Experience

    Most supply chain players already do an excellent job of tracking a shipment’s movement from source to customer, it’s just a matter of taking that information and presenting it to the consumer in a digestible way.

    That’s where the ideas of reactive tracking and proactive tracking come into play. In reactive, the information might be readily available, but no queries happen until after there’s a request, at least externally. So, internal teams might be monitoring a shipment status as it moves through the network, but customers receive no major alerts. Proactive, on the other hand, is a lot more involved, a lot more automated, and delivers a lot more data or information. It’s also how providers can estimate an updated delivery date throughout the shipment process.

    Standard shipment tracking notifications generally include shipment, exception, and delivered alerts. But with the help of advanced and proactive shipment solutions, major carriers like UPS, and FedEx, are also able to deliver more nuanced updates on shipment progress — such as when a shipment moves from one facility to the next, within the said facilitates, or even when it exchanges hands, like being passed off to USPS for the final leg of delivery.

    Many times, when a shipment is moving through the network, especially over long distances, it can seem like nothing is happening on the consumer side. This may give the impression that a shipment is sitting still, delayed, or lost within the network when truthfully it’s still being processed. Having the extra information handy and available to share with the customer, can significantly improve the consumer experience, boosting satisfaction. They get more updated or real-time alerts and know exactly where their purchase or shipment is within the network. What’s more, when there is a delay or complication, they’re notified immediately, which can certainly soften the blow of bad news. It also gives them more time to plan accordingly, whether that’s canceling an order, requesting a replacement, or taking similar action.

    Looking Beyond Consumer Experience

    Yes, more realistic and streamlined shipment tracking is better for customer experience and keeps the consumer more informed, but also there are direct business benefits to having these systems in place.

    Accurate tracking allows every player to have a birds-eye view of the network, from its origin, moving through distributors, to sellers, and beyond. It means that every party along the network can remain more informed, and plan accordingly for various events. It’s also much easier to catch budding problems before they become a serious issue, such as when a particular party is taking longer during processing.

    It’s easier to see bottlenecks, manual errors, and delays, and troubleshoot unique supply chain problems, without losing or misplacing packages along the way. Moreover, customers tend to be happier with the wealth of information, making them more likely to patronize a business or service.

    Fraud is another issue that’s becoming more and more common, and it crops up in many forms from stolen credit card information, to fake addresses, and even shipment theft along various supply routes. For example, one method nefarious actors use when purchasing goods is to enter a fraudulent or stolen credit card and send the shipment(s) to a fake address. As it moves along the network, or sometimes even before, that fake address is flagged, and fraudsters arrange delivery at a new, legitimate address. They get the product, while the business, and partners, get nothing in return because of the fraudulent payment information.

    Streamlined and real-time tracking can help cut down on this significantly because providers can stop the deliveries from being rerouted when it happens, or even identify problematic addresses and customers — to stop the sale.

    Worth the Investment?

    Consumer experience and business benefits aside, is the technology worth the investment? Is it worth upgrading or overhauling operations to achieve better transparency?

    Between November 2020 and March 2021, buyers tracked their deliveries an average of 3.1 times via email, and 6.2 times via mobile apps, where applicable. Clearly, customers use the tools they have available to track their shipments, but if they’re not available, they’ll get in touch with a business to find out when and where their item(s) are. With complications and delays becoming more and more common, sophisticated tracking is downright necessary just to provide updated information to consumers.

    It’s not difficult to see that real-time or proactive tracking is imperative to providing a positive consumer experience, directly affecting satisfaction, even more so when the updates are of note — such as a delay or delivery estimate change. COVID-19 and the various supply and component shortages have certainly kept everyone on their feet in the industry, but things are likely to continue or worsen. There’s never been a better time to strive for improved visibility and efficiency.

    The ultimate supply chain visibility, shipment tracking included, can be achieved with the help of modern technologies, such as the IoT, machine learning, and AI. The current landscape may even accelerate the use of these technologies naturally, signaling that it’s well worth the investment even before considering the consumer experience.

    Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief ofRevolutionized. She regularly covers trends in the industrial sector.