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Automation Solutions for Seasonal Traders

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article image Automation Solutions for Seasonal Traders

Having recently done Easter shopping, battled through the pre-long weekend supermarket crush, and experienced the post-weekend sales, made me think about how companies that are exclusively seasonal in their trade manage their supply chain with retailers that trade all year round. Beyond chocolate egg suppliers, suppliers of food and merchandise for back to school, Halloween, Christmas, Australia Day, major sporting events, and so on only have a trading partnership with retailers for a limited portion of time.

New trading relationships are generally approached guardedly, by both parties, until the relationship has proven its effectiveness and worth. The first months of trade are typically viewed as a trial period, to discover the smoothness of backend operations and the potential of front-end products as an overall indicator of relationship profitability. Many retailers and grocers require Fulfilment EDI or other electronic trade data to trade with them at all. This means that limited-period seasonal suppliers, as well as any new supplier, must comply with retailer’s Fulfilment EDI requirements – without expending significant resources on the yet-unproven or temporary relationship.

Although commonalities exist, all retailers have different trading document formats and data points. Purchase orders (POs) are fairly universal, however some retailers do not accept invoices (instead paying in PO). Some retailers require purchase order acknowledgements. Some will send Purchase Order Change documents, whereas other edit the original PO Document type. The Advanced Ship Notice (ASN) or Despatch Advice (DESADV) is popular in industries such as grocery, and hitherto unknown in the hardware sector (although dominant hardware retailer Bunnings, currently conducting an ASN pilot project, will slowly change this in the sector). Fulfilment EDI is complex and divided. All companies have special requirements and formats – in more than 60,000 integrations, SPS Commerce has never once experienced an identical deployment.

This is where a WebForms style solution, with universal and worldwide accessibility via mobile browser, delivers a distinct advantage. SPS Commerce WebForms is an online fulfilment solution that companies use to send and receive orders, shipping notices, invoices, and any other Fulfilment EDI document, to ensure their data matches up with retailer expectations. WebForms maps the data that suppliers provide online, into EDI transactions that match different retailer requirements. SPS has a solid understanding of Australian retailers, with hundreds of standing Aussie retailer connections already built, so we know what sorts of rules and data structures they expect. Given the EDI maps (MIGs), or connections, have already been built and other customers use them across our network on a daily basis, the SPS network is extremely robust. It is a reliable way for new and seasonal suppliers to do business without investing anything more than minor resources.

The SPS Commerce WebForms solution is easy to configure and use. The system guides you through the various trading documents each retailer requires (they are also listed on our website). One may require a PO, PO Acknowledgement, Invoice, ASN, and shipping label, while another only needs a PO and ASN. Trading across the SPS network eliminates the challenge of discovering retailer EDI specifications, and maintaining them despite frequent updates.

After configuration, the supplier and retailer solutions are connected. This allows automated pre-populated of the retailer’s purchase order data points into feedback documents. Pre-populated information can be edited where desired. The solution automates communication amongst retailers, suppliers, and third-party logistics providers (3PLs) of the retail ecosystem, acknowledging and validating POs to ensure orders are accepted and filled successfully. Tools such as Auto-Complete further simplify and automate trade, by supporting establishment of pre-defined user defaults; for example, users may specify packaging types, quantities, invoice terms, and more, to auto-populate the documents for each retailer. With pasted tracking numbers and shipping data, simultaneous send of many documents (batch send) is possible. These functionalities streamline processing and reduce manual data entry.

Low cost and low barrier to establishment makes WebForms ideal for new trading relationships and seasonal vendors (the same features make it suitable for ongoing but low-volume trade). Extending from this, WebForms supports leans and adaptive operation in the retail supply chain, giving retail suppliers a practical choice in moving forward with new retailers.

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