Wal-Mart Ramps Up Global E-Commerce

FEBRUARY 23, 2014

A worker at Wal-Mart's "dark store" in Mexico City

Wal-Mart says it has cracked the code for speedy, same-day grocery delivery—in Mexico. As retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon.com rush to expand home delivery in the U.S. to groceries, the retail giant is looking across the border for help: Its high-end Mexican grocery chain, Superama, already delivers groceries in as little as 3 hours.

Wal-Mart has ramped up its global e-commerce operations over the past few years, writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 19, 2014), in hopes of catching up to online rival Amazon.com. The company vowed to match Amazon’s service offerings within 2 years. Currently, only about 2% of Wal-Mart’s sales come from the Web.

The company has been testing home-grocery delivery in Colorado and California, but it hasn’t announced a timeline for taking the service nationwide. It is also experimenting with grocery delivery in such cities as Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile. Wal-Mart says it is “committed to being the online global leader in grocery delivery.”

Mexico provides $27 billion in sales and contributes 6% of the company’s global sales. Superama helped Wal-Mart achieve a 92% market share in the home delivery of groceries in Mexico. A fifth of its grocery orders arrive via mobile-phone apps, computers and tablets. The service is strongest in Mexico City, where much of Mexico’s wealth is concentrated. The capital’s snarled traffic and cramped grocery stores make delivery from Superama appealing for the well-to-do.

The majority of the grocery deliveries in Mexico come from supermarkets that are open to the public. But in the future, Wal-Mart de México plans to deploy more “dark stores”— spaces used exclusively to fulfill online orders. Such “closed” stores are more efficient: Wal-Mart’s inaugural dark store in Mexico City handles the same volume of orders as 5 stores open to the public.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

America’s Second Railroad Revolution

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

Union Pacific's Bailey Yard

Rail is on a roll in the U.S. As Forbes(Feb.10, 2014) writes, The relic of the 19th century will become the most important logistics system of the 21st century.” Thanks to leaps in technology, more and more freight traffic has moved from roads to rails, where trains can move one ton of goods about 500 miles on a single gallon of fuel. The industry, so recently an aging also-ran in the age of superhighways, has seen revenues surge 19% to $80.6 billion since 2009, creating 10,000 new jobs at railroad companies. Less than a decade ago diesel prices were so low that manufacturers rarely considered rail for shipments of less than 1,000 miles. Now they’re ditching trucks in favor of trains for jobs as short as 500 miles.

All of which is driving a multibillion-dollar revival in rail R&D and infrastructure, investment unseen in America since the transcontinental railroad. Thousands of new state-of-the-art locomotives–far more fuel-efficient and less polluting than the ones they replace–are now operating on U.S. railroads. And the boom (with $20 billion in infrastructure spending annually) has been underwritten by industry, with no cost to taxpayers. Further, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required railroads to fund, build and implement a new, safer “Positive Train Control” system by the end of 2015, refitting locomotives and tracks, and placing GPS devices on every locomotive.

This technology has been revolutionizing freight hauling, allowing the railroads to pinpoint a locomotive’s location within one yard. And instead of sending trains speeding across the country only to stop at each red signal, the new system means conductors will be able to know about planned stops well in advance, allowing them to simply reduce speed (and fuel consumption) to a level that won’t force them to stop altogether and burn major amounts of fuel when restarting from a standstill.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

From Navy Oil Tankers to Amazon’s Diapers

NOVEMBER 27, 2013

8 ships returning to Caroline Islands anchorage, 1944

Amazon’s online diaper sales and the U.S. Navy’s refueling protocol for World War II appear unrelated and worlds apart. Nevertheless, they are both answers to an identical logistics problem: how can an organization shorten the time between a customer’s order and a supplier’s response?

Amazon is seeking a way to decrease its response time to online buyers. In the case of diapers, this means encouraging a supplier such as P&G to relocate its operations adjacent to Amazon’s warehouses. With co-location, both firms presumably can reduce their shipping costs, better manage their inventories, and speed up deliveries.

The Navy experienced a similar logistics problem during World War II, writesThe Wall Street Journal (Nov.25, 2013). In the early months of the war, the Pacific fleet engaged in hit-and-run tactics; it had to return to Pearl Harbor, where its oil supply tanks were located. When the Navy launched a 1943 offensive in the central Pacific, the geographical distance between consumer (fleet) and supplier (Hawaii) widened. Refueling consumed a precious commodity—time.

One  logistic solution: seize an enemy-held island, convert the island into an advanced base and construct oil-storage facilities for the fleet. That worked, but as the Navy accelerated its offensive, it outran the advanced base network. By 1944, the Navy introduced floating bases at Pacific anchorages. Commercial tankers delivered fuel oil to the anchorage, storing oil in barges. A gap, though, between oil demand and supply still persisted.

Then the Navy turned logistics on its head, dispatching 36 oilers to meet carrier task force units at prearranged locations in the forward area. Oilers now refueled fleet units on the move in “underway replenishment.” The results were dramatic. A carrier task force could remain free from a fixed base for 3 months. Fleet Admiral Nimitz termed the Pacific just-in-time supply chain as his “secret weapon.” Naval historians would describe Nimitz’s logistic plan as a “fleet within a fleet.” Amazon’s co-location has been called a “plant within a plant.”

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

The Box That Built the Modern World

AUGUST 11, 2013

shipping containersFor a fascinating story called “The Box That Built the Modern World,” enjoy this article in In Transit (Issue 3, 2013). The piece follows the Hong Kong Express, docked at Hamburg’s Container Terminal for 33 hours. “Already, the ship was half empty. Cargo from Asia was stacked in neat rows of shipping containers on the dock. The ship is nearly a quarter of a mile long; from side to side it’s 157 feet. It can carry 13,167 20-foot-long containers, the standard box used in commerce around the world.” In less than 2 months the Hong Kong Express will call at 11 ports and travel more than 12,500 miles. Circling the world 4-5 times a year, it can move 1.4 million tons of cargo annually.

More than any other single innovation, the shipping container epitomizes the enormity, sophistication, and importance of our modern transportation system.  Fundamental to how practically everything in our consumer-driven lives works, it is the Internet of things. Just as email is disassembled into bundles of data you send, then re-assembled in your recipient’s inbox, the boxes are designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant.

Once they enter the stream of global shipping, the boxes are shifted and routed by sophisticated computer systems that determine their arrangement on board and plot the most efficient route to get them from point to point. The exact placement of each box is critical: ships make many stops, and a box scheduled to be unloaded late in the journey can’t be placed above one slated for offloading early.

The In Transit article traces a T-shirt sewn at a factory near Beijing. Tagged, folded, and boxed, the T-shirt is stuffed into a container with 33,999 identical shirts at the factory. The merchandise passes through 36 steps before arriving at a discount clothing retailer’s distribution center near Munich. There’s the trucker who moves the box to a waiting ship in Xinjiang, the feeder ship that moves it to Singapore to be loaded onto a bigger Europe-bound freighter, the crane operator in Hamburg, customs officials, train engineers, and more. The total time in transit for a typical box from a Chinese factory to a customer in Europe might be as little as 35 days. Cost per shirt? “Less than one U.S. cent,” says a shipping exec. “It doesn’t matter anymore where you produce something now, because transport costs aren’t important.”

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Li & Fung, The Most Important Company You Never Heard Of

AUGUST 9, 2013

Li & Fung workers protesting unpaid wages

Li & Fung — the most important company that most American shoppers have never heard of — has long been on the cutting edge of globalization, chasing cheap labor to garment factories first in China, then elsewhere in Asia, including Bangladesh. Now, with sweatshop disasters there drawing international scrutiny, the business is looking for the next best place where it can steer apparel buyers seeking workers to stitch clothing together for a few dollars a day.

As the world’s largest sourcing and logistics company,” writes The New York Times (Aug. 8, 2013), “Li & Fung plays matchmaker between poor countries’ factories and affluent countries’ vendors, finding the lowest-cost workers, haggling over prices and handling the logistics for 1/3 of the retailers found in the typical American shopping mall, including Sears, Macy’s, JCPenney and Kohl’s.”

The Hong Kong merchandiser owns no clothing factories, no sewing machines and no fabric mills. Its chief asset is the 15,000 suppliers in over 60 countries that make up a network so sprawling that an order for 500,000 bubble skirts that once took 6 months from drawing board to store shelf now takes 6 weeks at a sliver of the price.

“If globalization is a race to the bottom, where lowest wages win,” says an A.F.L.-C.I.O. spokeswoman, “Li & Fung is the sherpa showing companies the fastest route down that slope.” Li & Fung’s ability to exert pressure on factories can have unfortunate consequences, adds a labor advocacy group executive: “Every extra penny you squeeze from a factory is a step closer to that factory cutting the kind of corners that lead to deadly disasters.”

Meanwhile Li & Fung’s CEO says his company is considering South America and sub-Saharan Africa as possible places for growth. ”I wouldn’t write Bangladesh off,” he said. “It still has some of the cheapest labor in the world. For factories to get safer, clothing prices would have to go up. So far, consumers have just not been willing to accept higher costs.”

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.