CRUSH Global: Companies must manage shortages of both products and people

Companies are going to struggle with shortages of people and products in the months ahead, according to industry panelists at the recent Avalara CRUSH Global virtual event.

Technology — in the form of capturing and analyzing data and automating routine tasks — will be critical for many businesses as they adjust to the new realities, they said.

“You need technology to control and manage this,” said  WooCommerce Chief Revenue Officer Craig Cohen. “Grabbing the data from all these different inputs.”

Cohen and Dara Meath, the divisional CIO and head of digital/ecommerce at Conair Corporation, talked about challenges facing online businesses during Avalara CRUSH Global, a virtual conference focused on the impacts of changing government policy and accelerating technology. The event was streamed May 17–18 and sessions and resources are available on demand through June.

Products and people are both in short supply

Many companies are struggling with supply chain management, said Cohen. “It’s the biggest topic and the biggest hurdle for a lot of businesses.”

And since the issues are compounded by inflation and transportation backups at ports, there aren’t any easy fixes, Cohen continued. “It’s a problem that’s not going away soon.”

Likewise, companies are struggling to not just find workers, but to find workers with the right skill sets, Meath added.

“Talent is definitely one of those things that’s been a challenge,” she said. “Not just to bring it in, but retain it and keep it.”

For retailers, for example, staffing shortages are among the factors leading companies to shut down brick-and-mortar locations and put more emphasis on online sales, Meath explained. But while online sales require fewer workers, the workers that omnichannel retailers do hire need to have specific skills that are different from the skills workers had when they dealt with customers face-to-face in a store.

Cohen agreed. “The key is finding the right people who are good around digital,” he said.

Technology can help relieve staffing shortfalls

Call centers are another example, the panelists said: Staffing shortages at customer support centers mean customers can literally be on hold for hours.

But, “there’s a ton of technology out there to give a better consumer experience,” Meath said, listing chatbots with active artificial intelligence as one way of helping to reduce customer service wait times.

Technology can also help companies by providing the data they need to focus on profitability, Cohen said.

Data helps leaders answer “how do I manage this and how do I distribute this in the most profitable way?” he said. “What do I sell this direct way? Versus selling through a channel? Through a store? A third party? A retailer? Whatever it is.”

Data is key to customer retention as well, Cohen said. “Once you have them, you’ve sold them.” The question is then, “How do I keep them coming back?”

Consider how your changes affect partners, suppliers

Meath said analytics are key to understanding “what has sold well, what’s happening, how are the trends changing?”

But as you adjust your business to take advantage of opportunities, she continued, keep in mind that you don’t want to put yourself in direct competition with your partners.

“Companies are trying to learn how to be adaptive,” Meath said. “They’re trying to understand how those relationships are going to work.”

More main-stage panel discussions on this and other topics are available on demand until the end of June at AvalaraCRUSH.com. So is all the content from CRUSH City, a virtual business district featuring webinars, videos, and other resources specific to a range of industries including manufacturing, small business, and hospitality. 

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