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Finding Your ‘Little Debbie’ Box

What do fast order fulfillment and an upcycled break room snack box have in common? It turns out – one awesome retailer creatively bridging the gap.

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In 2020, a GMT team member was very excited to spy a Little Debbie snack box on their front porch. The box was a little worse for wear, folded at the end and taped securely – but, hey, there was an unexpected treat to devour! (And would anyone experiencing 2020 really look a free Little Debbie snack in the box, so to speak? Answer: no.)

Our GMT member was taken further by surprise when they opened the box to find no snack, but instead discovered the last online order they had placed.

That’s right, a massive retail shipper with $40B a year in parcel spend supplemented a traditional cardboard box with something likely from their brick-and-mortar break room. Not only did the shipper save space inside the box (compared to a traditional box), they managed to get this order to their customer on-time during a cardboard box shortage. What a feat! (Also an emotional rollercoaster for our GMT member, who did get their Little Debbie snack in the end.)

What can we learn from this event? Well, first, it’s not to be written off as a response to a single event. In fact, we reached out to this particular shipper and found they were in the process of developing a microfulfillment center system dedicated to e-commerce orders. Little Debbie snack boxes weren’t exactly part of the grand scheme, but being resourceful, fulfilling the order from a location as close to the customer as possible, and general fast order-fulfillment designed to maintain on-time delivery were exactly in plan.

Do any of these priorities sound familiar? They should, because they’re all Key Strategy Focuses for GMT Benchmark Report respondents. They’re the supply chain priorities that rose to the top throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and they got there, in some fashion, because of greater supply chain issues like the numerous shortages that have plagued our industry.

Cardboard boxes have been on the shortage list a few times now, forcing many brands to increase their on-hand inventory, forecast their need with greater focus than ever before, and find new ways to reduce or reuse their boxes. Point being, shippers have adapted to this particular kind of shortage beyond a single event, applying a lesson that began for some as a Little Debbie box to their whole network.

The reality is the global economy is still realizing the ripple effects of the pandemic, and our supply chain industry will continue to be shaped, for better or worse, by those ripples. Which is why we see “volatility of inventory supply” and “internal challenges” rise to the top of Key Challenges for shippers. Steering your brand through the eye of the storm requires just as much trust from the crew on your ship as an understanding of the water surrounding you. In 2022 and beyond, shippers will continue to be challenged to understand how the global economy will impact their network, while also trying to explain those impacts to their internal stakeholders to gain the support needed to remain afloat.

For even greater insights into the 2022 parcel and LTL industry landscape, download the full GMT Benchmark Report.

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 Written by Cam Elliott

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