Symphony RetailAI, Dallas, Texas, announced the findings of its “Strengthening the Retail Supply Chain survey of North American retailers.

The findings identify the key challenges in supply chain management for high-volume retailers, and provides insight into the reasons why retailers believe that a new generation of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions can help overcome these challenges.

Nearly two thirds of retail supply chain professionals struggle with disconnects between systems

The majority of retailers surveyed have confidence in their allocation and inventory planning software, but 48% rate their forecasting technology as average to very poor. While they would prefer that each supply chain component work together to enable harmonized demand flow across the organization, few retailers have established a unified process.

The challenge for retailers is that they lack connected systems – 36% of survey respondents indicated that they have separate demand planning, replenishment, allocation and order management systems for store and e-commerce orders. Combined with the fact that 28% don’t manage each of their modules on the same platform, it becomes clear that disparate demand replenishment systems are a significant burden to efficiency.

Retailers pressured to push past barriers, forecast more accurately

The survey also reveals that the pace of innovation is a significant issue, with 43% of retail supply chain professionals saying their technology can’t keep up with business demands. Forty-two percent describe less-than-optimal synchronization between their inventory and channels, and nearly as many worry about fulfilment complexities, stocking inefficiencies and high product lead time.

When they do invest in needed technology, organizations are most inclined to spend on systems that increase stock availability and decrease stock holding, and 44% of supply chain professionals invest in new technology because their existing systems are unable to sustain new growth.   

In an effort to keep reasonable service levels, retailers often tend to overstock, but then over course-correct and understock instead. The impact of this on supply chains is huge. According to the survey, 43% of respondents say they’re challenged by lack of real-time visibility of all supply chain inventory. However, six in 10 supply chain professionals say their organization is actively taking steps to address this hurdle and increase inventory visibility. 

Retailers turning to AI

AI and machine learning holds the potential to improve supply chain efficiency, and forward-looking retailers are already investing in these technologies. Retailers say AI’s greatest potential to improve supply chain management relates to quality and speed of planning insights, while nearly half of all respondents identified demand management as one of the Top 3 areas for AI in the next five years.

One in three professionals surveyed claim to have incorporated AI capabilities into their supply chain management processes, and one in four is working toward that goal.

“Today’s retail supply chain is being reinvented because of the complexities of providing goods to customers,” says Patrick Buellet, chief strategy officer. “As grocery retail evolves to become more of a destination for shoppers, supply chain efficiency is more critical than ever. There’s also a constant backdrop of rising cost of goods, which cannot simply be passed on to the customer. And, today’s increasing focus on fresh and prepared meals adds additional challenges of accurate forecasting to meet customer expectations. Even though retailers are challenged by the pace of innovation, winners are investing in new technologies, particularly artificial intelligence and machine learning. These can boost productivity and greatly improve the accuracy of information for better decisions throughout the supply chain.”

A range of supply chain leadership roles from 50 North American retailers were interviewed for the survey, with the majority of respondents from large or mid-size grocery organizations.