Report: Key Challenges Facing Retail Supply Chains

2020 State of the Retail Supply Chain

Auburn University’s Center for Supply Chain Innovation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), and DC Velocity are pleased to present the 2020 State of the Retail Supply Chain Report. This ninth annual installment of our study covers highly relevant topics that impact success or failure in the hyper-speed omnichannel retail environment.
Previous year’s studies have highlighted the rapid pace of change in retail supply chain, but the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has shown us what a dynamic environment truly looks like. Retail supply chains were thrust into the spotlight, routinely covered on front pages and in the evening news. In this crucible, retailers have had to respond and pivot to a greater and faster degree than ever before—from non-discretionary retailers that experienced supply chain disruptions and unprecedented sales numbers, to discretionary retailers that found themselves compelled to close stores while homebound-consumers fueled dramatic e-commerce spikes.


  • Leading retailers are focusing their supply chain success around three areas: fulfillment automation, human capital, and digitizing their supply chain ecosystems.
  • 29% of supply chain executives survey identified hourly associate staffing as a key supply chain challenge over the next three years
  • 71% plan to invest more on technology upgrade and omni-capabilities compared to last year
  • 100% of supply chain executives believe robotics will change the way their company operates its supply chain
    • 95% feel the same way about machine learning
  • 95% of supply chain executives are thinking about, planning, or already deploying supply chain digitization initiatives.
The pandemic highlighted retailers’ ongoing efforts to build more flexible and responsive supply chains—a need that has become even more acute in 2020. This report provides considerable insight about the essential concepts needed to create dynamic supply chains for any economic conditions.
This report explores some key challenges in the retail supply chain arena: automation, human capital, and digitization. While most of the research and interviews reflected in this report occurred prior to COVID-19’s domestic arrival, these topics represent essential underlying concepts that remain as relevant now—if not more so—than ever. In light of the fluidity of the economy and the retail industry this year, we’ll plan to release a mid-year update report in October, analyzing lessons learned and taking stock of the retail supply chain.
We thank everyone who participated in phone interviews and/or completed the survey. Your insightful and honest input is greatly appreciated. The annual report is valuable only because each of you took the time to engage.
For more information, please contact RILA’s Vice President of Supply Chain Jess Dankert.
  • Technology & Innovation
  • Supply Chain

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