The past year taught supply chain professionals that uncertainty is the only certainty in supply chain management (SCM). And that’s rapidly proving to be the case as drug makers obtain approval for a COVID-19 vaccine and plan distribution. That will, in turn, stimulate major issues in navigating holiday SCM for regular shipments, significantly as e-commerce expands and those using the big three see less capacity available. However, it’s not all grim and going to affect all drivers or capacity. According to Matt Leonard via Supply Chain Dive, “the company confirmed [that] there are no other main logistics supply chain partners beyond DHL, FedEx, and UPS that are working on distribution plans in the U.S. [Pfizer] will be utilizing road, and air modes of transportation via our main carrier partners in the U.S. where [Pfizer] expect to be able to get the product to points of use (POU) within a day or two.”

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Why a Vaccine Presents a Newer Challenge in SCM

And as companies look to embrace a more substantial period of holiday SCM, the disruption caused by COVID-19 is only going to increase. That combines with the unprecedented growth in infection rates occurring across the country to create a perfect storm. Regardless, the larger carriers are already well underway with planning for how a vaccine could disrupt transportation. 

As reported earlier this year by Transport Topics, UPS and FedEx are gearing up for a significant shift when the vaccine becomes ready for distribution. “The vaccines will be handled like other fragile medical supplies the company ships, packed in dry ice — frozen carbon dioxide — to maintain temperatures during movement between trucks and planes. With their proximity to UPS air cargo hubs, the freezer farms will accommodate overnight delivery to almost anywhere in the world.

DHL Global Forwarding USA in recent years has also moved to increase its share of the medical business, CEO David Goldberg told TT. He noted the company has eight cold-chain facilities in the U.S., including a new center in Indianapolis that opened in July. In 2015, it opened a 430,000-square-foot facility at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.”

It all leads to one outcome—less capacity among the big three when the vaccine does become publicly available for distribution.

Shippers Need More Technology to Enhance Holiday SCM

Effective holiday SCM is about using systems and resources to meet the challenges and deliver an exceptional customer experience. And part of that capability rests with creating an informed customer base and building collaboration throughout the supply chain network. Remember that your customers are going to understand vaccine distribution is coming. Everyone has felt the annoyances caused by COVID-19. It will be best to begin by encouraging customers to complete their holiday shopping earlier than usual. And that aligns well with what major retailers, ranging from Walmart through Amazon, have pursued this year. 

As an example, Amazon held Prime Day a few short weeks ago. That effectively created an extended peak shopping season. And holiday SCM went into peak mode weeks ahead of schedule. Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, and just about every other retailer have followed the trend—launching early specials for the holiday buying extravaganza. But that’s only half the battle.

Best Practices to Managing the Stresses of a Combined Peak and All-Out Race for Vaccine Distribution

Shippers concerned over their ability to meet customers’ holiday ordering demands need a few best practices to find and maintain capacity throughout a possible distribution well before the peak holiday SCM season takes hold. These include:

  1. Identify the weaknesses in operations and carrier sourcing. 
  2. Take advantage of API and EDI to connect to more networks.
  3. Stay informed by establishing clear expectations and changes to shipping with existing network partners. 
  4. Build on collaboration with an accessible, cloud-based transportation management system (TMS). 
  5. Use freight data sharing capabilities to work with trading partners to reduce confusion at the dock.
  6. Work with established carriers to find additional capacity in less-affected, localized markets.
  7. Take advantage of owner-operator drivers.

Leverage an Integrated TMS With a Proven Value in Managing All Freight Modes

Using an advanced TMS and working with a trustworthy third-party logistics service provider (3PL) that understands the nuances of unprecedented demand and rapidly scaling operations to thrive through this disruption and those yet to come. That system is the Cerasis Rater, and that partner is the new parent company to Cerasis, GlobalTranz. Now is the time to be all-hands-on-deck in holiday SCM; that has not changed in the least.

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