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5 Minutes With Ben Balfour, Commercial Director, Advanced Supply Chain Group

5 Minutes With Ben Balfour, Commercial Director at Global logistics company Advanced Supply Chain Group (ASCG). Ben has over 25 years’ experience working with retailers and brands preparing products for sale and also handling and processing returns, as ensuring the efficient and effective availability of prime stock is vital in today’s omni-channel climate.

Tell me about Advanced Supply Chain Group, in a nutshell. 

We’re a Yorkshire-based logistics company operating internationally, always striving to be better, faster and cheaper than the competition. Part of this involves investing in people and technology, making these a core part of our business. You won’t find us offering standard, off-the-shelf solutions. Instead, we develop our own supply chain technology and software based on what our customers want and need, rather than what they can have because it’s already available. We spend around £1million each year on software development – an investment that’ll grow with the business.

Similarly, as processes become more automated and excitement about robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) grows, we won’t lose focus on the importance of our team. Helping people develop skills and jobs they’re passionate about is vital to delivering outstanding service and innovation.

Advanced Supply Chain Group is now made-up of a team of more than 1,500 people, with sites across the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Far East, as well as trade partners internationally. This means we are able to keep our customers’ supply chains moving on time and budget.

What are ASCG’s clear differentiators compared to supply chain services in retail?

We’ve long-championed the need for investment in innovation to keep pace with the rapid and constant advancements in e-commerce. This enables us to support retailers by developing and delivering consumer-centric supply chain solutions. Online shoppers demand convenience, a seamless experience and have real-time expectations. They also want to try and buy, and returning items is now just a normal part of the e-commerce process. We work closely with our customers to continually embrace and satisfy these demands, and evolve their supply chains as shopping habits and trends change. In short, our customers’ challenges are our challenges!

Why is supply chain management so essential for retailers?

An efficient and effective supply chain can deliver a real competitive advantage. It can minimise margin dilution when it comes to customer returns and can provide a bedrock for building customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Retailers that get their supply chains right will get goods to consumers at the right price and at the right time. This is a simple equation for healthy sales and margins.

This competitive advantage is becoming even more important as supply chains become increasingly visible to consumers. Online shoppers are taking a greater interest in sustainability, and ‘greener’ supply chains that minimise waste and have a smaller carbon footprint will have more influence on purchasing decisions.

Tell me about your intelligent supply chain model. How is it different to usual supply chain models?

We believe our model is different because our technology is developed according to what’s required by our customers, rather than being dictated by what’s available. It’s a data driven approach with consumer trends and buying habits at its heart to enable our customers to embrace and address challenges instead of viewing these as problematic. The model is agile and balances human intelligence and involvement with technology and automation.

What gap in the retail market does ASCG strive to address?

Our focus is on making supply chains a competitive and strategic part of a retailer’s business and moving the industry away from taking a commoditised approach to supply chain management. The latter always proves a false economy. Taking a cost-led approach, and placing this ahead of what consumers want, tends to end-up costing retailers more through reputational damage, lost sales, inefficiencies and correcting errors.

Why should retailers invest in ASCG’s services? 

We’ve worked with many customers for a long time and that’s largely because of our innovative approach and the fact that we add value to their businesses. We build long-term partnerships with our customers and they appreciate that we’re just as invested in their supply chains, looking for opportunities and spotting potential challenges, as much as they are.

What are some of the common mistakes in supply chain practice? Why do they occur and how can retailers avoid them?

One of the most common mistakes is putting cost before consumers. Delivery charges have become a massive battleground, with retailers vying for sales through low or no-cost deliveries. This has had a ripple-effect throughout supply chains as companies think ‘well if we’re not charging for delivery, how do we eliminate this cost?’.  This seems a logical approach, but ultimately compromises service levels and then detracts from satisfying other consumer expectations such as quicker and more trackable deliveries. Putting consumer demands first and making these a core part of the supply chain strategy, rather than focusing on cost-cutting, will prove a more effective approach for retailers looking to maximise margins.

What are your key roles and responsibilities at ASCG?

A lot of my focus is on driving and supporting our ambitious growth targets. As Commercial Director, I’m looking at opportunities to expand internationally, a strategy that involves a combination of opening new sites and establishing trade partnerships. My responsibilities also include our global marketing strategy and ensuring our key selling points of being innovative, developing bespoke technology and having a team of talented people are clearly communicated as part of our overall proposition of being better, faster and cheaper than competitors.

What role do you think ASCG has in the future of e-commerce?

Looking at how we’re currently working with major retailers and considering key consumer trends, I think we’ll play an important role in making customer returns a standard part of the sales journey. Social media will be one of the next big things in e-commerce as platforms make it easier to buy products, rather than predominantly just advertise them. This will encourage more impulse purchasing, which will lead to more items returned. It’s super-charged window shopping and supply chains need to be able to move efficiently and effectively to maximise stock availability and ensure it’s in prime condition for sale.

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