November 11, 2015

‘Tis the season to shop, as you’ll have noticed if you’ve stopped into any big box store in the last week or so.

The digital world is gearing up for holiday ecommerce as well, with Black Friday flyers leaking out online and retailers shouting “free shipping!” from the rooftops.

So far, so standard. But what is changing is the way consumers perceive this annual shopping extravaganza. Continue reading Cyber Season: Holiday Ecommerce Blurs Shopping Boundaries

July 14, 2015

So, are you all set for the big day?
If you shrug your shoulders and look mildly confused, you’re forgiven; July 15th is not typically a day of great note… yet. Amazon would like to change that, however, as it seeks to set the date in stone as Prime Day.

Under the banner of celebrating the company’s 20th anniversary, Prime Day is the latest in a line of members-only promotions and services that Amazon hopes will win over new subscribers. Billed as an event “bigger than Black Friday,” it’s fair to say that the company has high hopes of cornering the calendar on this one.

Make no bones about it, the e-commerce giant is serious about becoming the consumer’s one-stop shop for online purchases.

Do We Need a New Black Friday?
After raising the question late last year as to whether retailers had jumped the shark with fabricated discount days, it’s clear which camp Amazon falls into.

Clearly, there’s some indication that it felt the same about the seasonal holiday rush to deep discounts. The answer from Bezos and co, however, is not to curtail these celebratory sales events, but rather to spread them out.

Somewhat inevitably,  Amazon won’t be alone in this endeavor. Walmart has already entered the fray with something it’s calling “atomic deals,” and others are expected to follow.

Whether they can make the July 15th deadline is another matter, but there’s plenty of summer left yet and you can bet your bottom dollar that retail marketing managers around the country are in meetings this week to plan their respective responses.

Interestingly, Amazon seems to have been inspired to hold Prime Day by competitors both existing and emerging.

On the major player side,  Alibaba’s Singles Day has been a growing sales event in China since 2009. With the company’s successful IPO last year on the New York Stock Exchange, Alibaba clearly has ambitions to become more of an influence in Amazon’s home market and the wider international stage.

On the start-up side, is set to launch next week. The club savings site is run by Amazon alumnus Marc Lore, who has a history of rattling his former employer’s cage and is basing much of the site’s appeal on discounts that are deeper even than Amazon’s.

Whether it’s celebration or competition that gave birth to Prime Day, the end result is the same: a speeded-up schedule for the e-commerce price wars, with all of the pluses that come with it for consumers, but also plenty of associated negatives for smaller-scale retailers.

At the Other End of the Scale
For smaller brands, the current retail landscape is less clear.

Unable to compete in a long-term price war with the giants, who can afford to accept heavy losses on select products to win the wider war for consumers, they must fall back on other competitive distinctions. Quality of service and depth of knowledge in a specific niche still offer an opportunity to give customers something they can’t find in mass services, and some are willing to pay for that quality regardless of the discounts on offer elsewhere.

A price squeeze is inevitable as discount competition hots up, but it doesn’t spell the end for smaller brands in general.

There are always brands that will find a loyal customer base when they stay true to a core value or service offering. With a targeted strategy and tight operation, it’s possible to emerge from whatever dust Prime Day and its peers stir up, stronger and more focused on what it is that makes your business special to consumers.

December 9, 2014

Black Friday? More like Bleak Friday, as retailers reported an 11% drop in sales revenue on this important post-Thanksgiving celebration of deep discount sales.

Cyber Monday, meanwhile, rose only 8% on last year’s figures, which also fell short of expectations (with the exception of Wal-Mart, who came up smelling of roses.) The reality failed to live up to the hype of the holiday, following widespread predictions of a record-breaking start to the season.

Overall it was a bit of a bust for most retailers and left them looking hopefully at the next few weeks of spending season to bridge that gap in expectations. Dollar and discount stores generally fared better over the four day spending spree weekend, leading some analysts to conclude that the economic reality .

In that scenario it’s economists that are experiencing the reality gap by taking indicators like stock market performance and corporate revenues over “on the ground” measures like consumer spending and confidence indices. But is this really the right place to look, or should retailers be taking a good long look in the mirror for stretching the holiday season start line to breaking point?

Black Friday Fatigue” is what the New York Times chose to label this year’s spending, and only their choice of day might be in question.


Think about how the holiday discounts applied to your inbox… if you’re anything like us, you started to see special offers well before Thanksgiving.

Add to that the controversy over physical store opening hours creeping into Thanksgiving day, preventing some employees spending it at home with their families as is traditional. Add again the extension of Cyber Monday to Cyber Week (and let’s face it, that’s not where the ads stop), and we have two full weeks of holiday shopping blitzkrieg… that’s enough to tire even the most festive family shopper you can think of.

The reality for retailers seems to be that sales are simply be too common now for their own good. Deep discounts are de rigeur and engaging in price warfare could simply spark a race to the bottom, which will only benefit those with the deepest of pockets.

If that’s not you, what can you do to cut through  battle of the bargain basement?

For many it’s likely to be better to focus on another area of holidays or pushing another area of competitive advantage, such as service, presentation, quality, or even geography. There’s a trend towards buying locally and ethically in recent years; can your business position itself along those lines? Or perhaps your product is suited to getting the orders in early, or even a last-minute local bonus that consumers can pick up as an additional gift.

The goal for most businesses is to stand out from the crowd, which in many ways makes the rush to join the Black Friday/Cyber Week madness exactly that: mad.

Rather than compete with everyone at exactly the same time, on price alone, what can you do to pick your spot, reach customers clearly and avoid getting caught in the retail stampede?

We’d love to hear your ideas here in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter.


December 3, 2014

As we bounce back from a long weekend of food, family and frantic shopping activity – not so much of the latter, as we’ll explain – it’s time to refocus on what’s happening in and around your supply chain.

Before we hit another holiday break, take some time to catch up on what happened in November and how it will affect your competitive landscape for the coming year.

Freght line truck holiday lights

Last Month in Logistics

From industry trends and reports to policy news and political views, here’s what happened in November that you need to know about:

  • Black Friday? Bleak Friday, really, as retailers report an 11% drop in sales revenue on this important post-Thanksgiving celebration of deep discount sales. Cyber Monday, meanwhile, rose only 8% on last year’s figures, which also fell short of expectations. (except for Wal-Mart, who came up smelling of roses.) The reality failed to live up to the hype of the holiday, following widespread predictions of a record-breaking start to the season.
  • Following final negotiations during November, Minnesota-based logistics provider C.H. Robinson announced on Monday that it will acquire the site for $365 million. The acquisition is big news for a company not typically associated with such activity, and marks further consolidation in the logistics industry as a whole.
  • Labor talks continued in Los Angeles, as longshore workers tried to thrash out a replacement for their previous contract that expired in July. In the absence of a satisfactory outcome to date, work slowdowns and the threat of strikes have hampered the ability of L.A. and Long Beach to move cargo from the busiest port area in North America.
  • U.S. rail freight traffic finally decreased during the closing weeks of November, but only by a minuscule 0.2%. The dip is noticeable as it ends a prolonged period of consistent weekly growth. Reflecting that consistent growth, total  North American volume for the year is up 5.4% compared to the same year-to-date figure from 2013.
  • U.S. trucking made some ground in reversing a September decline in tonnage, rising 0.5% for October according to the American Trucking Association. As with rail freight, the overall year-on-year growth is proving a positive upswing for road transportation analysts.
  • Despite lower-than-expected Cyber Monday numbers mentioned above, shippers are still anticipating a testing delivery season. In line with original plans to beef up their workforce, FedEx announced that it expects December 16th to be its busiest ever day in some parts of the world.


For more than just a monthly updates, connect with Capacity on FacebookGoogle+, and Twitter. You can also contact us with your details if you have specific questions about managing your supply chain operations.

November 3, 2014

As the calendar flips through to November shippers are inevitably in full swing, coordinating the arrival of a constant flow of goods into the country to satisfy our notoriously hungry seasonal demand.

While it’s not unusual to predict record-breaking years, this peak season seems set to be a doozy. Not only are major carriers like UPS expecting a bumper burst of action across a number of individual days, they also have the failures of 2013 fresh in the memory. In the final weeks of the year, insufficient resources and adverse weather conditions combined to prevent the smooth delivery required by a burst of late shopping.

Carriers have no desire to see a repeat of the backlog that occurred then at this most sensitive time of year. More advance predictions of an expected surge for the 2014 holidays will set the stage for the logistics industry’s equivalent of “Ground & Pound” (though hopefully with much closer coordination than this year’s Jets defense!)

As the article says, UPS thinks it could see up to 34 million packages delivered on its single busiest day this December. This would top the heaviest day of 2013 by some 3 million packages, fueled by the continued growth of ecommerce and the opportunity that retailers see to drive early sales by offering special deals earlier online. Traditionally Cyber Monday, which follows Thanksgiving weekend and the expected physical retail therapy of Black Friday, has been the focus of online sales pushes.

But more and more in recent years retailers have tried to convince customer to make their move earlier, with web specials on Thanksgiving itself and even pre-holiday deals to whet the appetite.

Combined with  a resurgent economy and more confident consumers we’d have to say that the record-breaking predictions will prove well-founded this year. Retailers with robust supply chains and intelligent advance planning will see the fruits of their labors even more than most years, as products flow more smoothly through the distribution process and out to end customers in good time for the holiday season.

And if you’re on the other side of this process, ready and waiting to join the holiday throngs for hourly online deals and the more classic “doorbuster” specials (bring your pads!), you could do worse than to check out USA Today’s 10 big Black Friday predictions. We wish you a safe shopping season!