Is WalMart Going to Force Logistics Scheduling Optimization Mainstream?

Recently, Spend Matters pointed out that Retail Mega-Giant Wal-Mart is stepping up its pressure on suppliers to get fulfillment perfect or pay a fine. According to Bloomberg, the goal is to add 1 Billion to revenue by improving (desired) product availability at stores (as the average stock-out rate of 8% costs a mega-retailer like Wal-Mart an awful lot of money).

But it’s not just stock-outs costing Walmart money. It’s deliveries that don’t happen when they are expected to happen. If a delivery arrives late, then warehouse workers have to stay overtime to get the truck unloaded, and that costs Walmart at least time and a half for every hour the workers have to stay late (plus any hours they had to be paid to wait around, probably doing nothing, for the delivery). If a delivery arrives (a day) early, then regularly scheduled deliveries have to be pushed ahead, possibly contributing to overtime and payment for empty hours (when workers show up for their shift and there is no work to be done for two hours).

And if trucks are waiting in winter, the drivers are not only being paid to sit to wait, but are probably also idling their trucks to keep warm, burning fuel, bumping up costs. So, the supplier is paying more to deliver, and passing that cost onto Walmart. When you think of how many early and late deliveries a mega-retailer like Wal-Mart must get, and you add up all the OT costs, empty hour costs for warehouse workers and drivers, and additional fuel costs, that costs a lot of money even before you take in the potential losses from stock-outs.

Bravo for Wal-Mart for trying to force more perfection into the supply chain and eliminate the considerable losses that come from imperfect orders. But how will the average supplier and/or carrier comply? Logistics scheduling can be a nightmare and be way too much for the average scheduler, or spreadsheet to handle. But as we’ve indicated before, not too much for an appropriately defined optimization solution. It’s about time optimization got more respect, even if it starts with scheduling.

And while optimization needs to be more universally applied, once a supplier or carrier gets comfortable with scheduling optimization, they’ll get more comfortable with optimization in general and move onto the adoption of decision optimization for logistics, and that’s just one step away from the application of decision optimization to high value / strategic events. And that’s, hopefully, only one step away from the universal application of optimization across all sourcing events.

So while this isn’t the most critical application of optimization for an average organization, it’s a great start and bravo to Wal-Mart for forcing suppliers and carriers to perform better in a manner that should force the eventual adoption of optimization.

And if you don’t like it, get over it. And if you don’t like Wal-Mart, remember, their dominance is all your fault.

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