Evolve Your Supply Chain with Blockchain

Although blockchain has become increasingly popular throughout the supply chain and logistics world, there’s still a lot of confusion around what exactly the technology offers. For an in-depth explanation of blockchain’s key benefits and an interactive look at how it can be used at every stage of the supply chain, explore the USPS® blockchain experience.

Use Technology to Enhance Your Reverse Logistics Process

Today’s customers want to return items quickly, easily and for free. These demands put a strain on logistics teams at e-commerce companies of all sizes.

To create a positive return experience for the customer in a way that is effective and efficient for the company, businesses need to tackle the challenges that come with processing returns.

USPS® recently commissioned Provoke Insights to conduct a proprietary study into the e-commerce reverse logistics landscape.

32%of surveyed companies cited manual labor tasks, including reworking, repacking and relabeling, as the biggest challenge to returns.1

After identifying what isn’t working in the returns process, turn to technology. Implementing the right hardware and software can relieve time-consuming manual tasks that slow down the productivity and efficiency of fulfillment employees. More than two-thirds (67%) of companies are already improving their logistics processes with technology.2

Research indicates that these four technologies provide opportunities to enhance and optimize your returns process.

  1. 1

    Automatic Data Capture

    Identify a returned object and gather important data about it without ever opening a package by using scannable barcodes or RFID tags.

    44%of surveyed companies use
    automatic data capture.3

    Primarily, automatic data capture cuts down the amount of valuable employee time spent opening a package, identifying an item, logging the reason for return and deciding where that package goes next.

    When a customer initiates a return online, they can note why they are returning the item. Then, a specific barcode is generated for their return label. Back in the warehouse, a team member can simply scan that code to see if the item is damaged and ineligible for resale or if it was simply the wrong fit for the customer.

  2. 2

    Cloud Computing

    Log and store valuable information about each return—such as the type of return, status, and more—in an accessible shared space.

    37%of surveyed companies
    use cloud computing.4

    The cloud is, in short, internet storage. Rather than managing reports and data on a local computer or server, which requires timely back-and-forth between a network of internal and external stakeholders, businesses can use the cloud for faster and more efficient visibility.

    Most cloud-based management applications also incorporate some level of live editing, meaning stakeholders can see logged updates in near-real time. It also opens the door to better collaboration with partners and broader visibility across the supply chain.

  3. 3

    Predictive Analytics and Big Data

    Discover insightful patterns through data analysis that can forecast and help get ahead of future returns.

    25%of surveyed companies use
    predictive analytics with big data.5

    Using all the data collected from the returns process—including the reasons for returns, as well as their frequency and volume—predictive analytics technology can identify and flag issues that might otherwise have gone undetected.

    For example, if there is a large volume of returns on one item that arrived damaged, the instance would be flagged. Then, a fulfillment team could pre-empt future returns by changing the packaging for that item to prevent issues going forward.

    Predictive analytics informed by big data are time- and money-savers for logistics teams.

  4. 4

    Blockchain

    Track and verify returns against the original transactions to scale back the time and labor of manually checking returns against receipts.

    14%of surveyed companies
    use blockchain.6

    While blockchain technology is still in the early stages of development and use, it is quickly gaining traction and offers a lot of value. The digital ledger of blockchain, which allows information to be digitally distributed but not manipulated or copied, creates a transparent record of a shipment. With this true record, it’s easy to see whether what is in the package when returned matches what was in the package when originally shipped.

    Implementing digital ledger technology scales back the manual labor needed for fulfillment employees to verify returns, allowing them to return focus to their primary roles.

Key Takeaway

These four technologies have been embraced by a number of companies as the keys to an optimal returns process. Leverage one or all of these options and see how technology can help streamline reverse logistics for your business.

While technology offers value for a modern e-commerce business dealing with returns, the landscape of reverse logistics is vast. Discover actionable insights from top companies to tackle seamless product returns head-on: Our full report is an insider guide, rich with proprietary research from Provoke Insights, that can help any business create a sustainable and competitive returns process.

4 Ways Blockchain Can Be Used Throughout the Supply Chain

Blockchain verifies transactions by recording activity on a continuously updated digital ledger, with no central point of control. The technology has become increasingly popular throughout the supply chain and logistics worlds, but there’s still confusion around how exactly it can help managers in their day-to-day jobs.

Below, explore the four most common applications of blockchain in the supply chain—smart contracts, tracking, fraud and theft prevention, and transaction processing.

  1. 1

    Smart Contracts

    Smart contracts, which live on a blockchain, are digital, self-executing contracts that allow for speedy, streamlined transactions.1

    Here’s how they work: Once supply chain partners decide on the terms of a delivery, payment, return or other operation, they’re stored in the blockchain as a unique code.2 This allows payments to be triggered automatically when specified conditions have been met. For example, after setting up a contract with a carrier, a party can put a payment into escrow. Once the receiver confirms receipt of delivery, the payment can be released automatically.

    This helps ensure all steps in a supply chain are carried out efficiently and creates trust among all parties entering into a contract. By cutting down on the risk of errors, delays and nefarious activity, costs can also be reduced—whether related to mitigating mistakes or employing intermediaries to carry out payments.3

  2. 2

    Tracking

    Because all parties given access to a blockchain are able to view the same data as it’s updated in near-real time, it’s easy to track product journeys from initial sourcing to final distribution.4 Having this kind of visibility into every activity and transaction can provide consumers with the full story behind a company’s products, allowing for heightened brand reputation.

    64% of supply chain professionals say that a lack of information on the tracking of product origins has caused inaction or indecision.5

    Because blockchain is a continuously synced ledger—updating in near-real time as transactions and activities are uploaded and recorded—supply chain managers no longer have to hunt down the history of a good’s movement step by step, party by party. This transparency cuts down on delays and associated expenses and can eliminate the need for costly intermediaries hired for oversight.

    Inventory management can also be improved, as companies are better able to forecast future demand, reducing the risk of excess inventory.

  3. 3

    Fraud and Theft Prevention

    In complex, global supply chains with many moving parts, it can be nearly impossible to stay abreast of every interaction. Unfortunately, this can be an open invitation for fraud and theft. Blockchain provides great traceability and transparency, so companies can feel confident that all parties in their network have carried out operations as specified and are complying with regulations.

    In a recent proprietary interview, one blockchain thought leader emphasized the usefulness of the technology when working in industries with a black market or a lot of fraud, which can pose risks to consumers and negatively impact brand value.6

    If the security of the database owner is compromised in a traditional centralized database, then the security of the ledger may be compromised as well. With blockchain, no single party has ownership; all partners view and verify uploaded data, and the entire network establishes a set of rules by which batches of data are automatically validated or rejected.7

    Because each block, or batch of data, is linked to the one preceding it, tampering is almost impossible.8 This brings about a high degree of security, making it very difficult for hacking or tampering to go unnoticed. With the risk of fraud and theft reduced, the time and money spent mitigating such issues are greatly reduced as well.

  4. 4

    Transaction Processing

    Traditional, paper-based transaction processing throughout the supply chain is often slow, inefficient and error-prone.9 With these setups, each party records their transactions for uploading onto a centralized database, owned and controlled by a single entity. When multiple parties are involved in multiple locations, it can be difficult to process all of these transactions quickly and accurately.

    Blockchain, on the other hand, allows all parties to view and validate the same information at the same time, creating consensus and reducing the risk of disputes. This speeds up transaction processing, while the unalterable nature of the database enhances security.10

    In another interview, one blockchain thought leader stated the benefits simply, noting how the technology can replace time-consuming, traditional paper-based processes in the world of shipping and logistics.11

    With blockchain, intermediaries are no longer needed to process and cross‑reference complex supply chain transactions, and waiting for payments to be processed becomes a thing of the past.

Learn More About Blockchain

As blockchain becomes more common throughout nearly all facets of the industry, supply chain managers are taking steps to learn about the basics of the technology and what it can do for their business. Smart contracts, tracking, fraud and theft prevention, and transaction processing are just a few of the ways supply chain and logistics professionals can begin applying blockchain.

To learn more about the technology and how it can be used throughout the supply chain, explore the USPS® in-depth blockchain experience.

8 Steps to Successful Direct Mail

Direct mail can be a powerful marketing tool, but incorporating it into omni-channel efforts can seem daunting—especially if you’re running a small- or medium-sized business. In this comprehensive white paper, we show you how to create a highly actionable campaign, helping you decide whom to target, what kind of message to send and how to measure overall effectiveness.

8 Ways to Measure the Value of Content Marketing Beyond Revenue

For many B2B marketers, content marketing is an incredibly valuable resource: More than 30% of survey respondents said it was either their most effective marketing tool or a key part of the puzzle.1

Still, some marketers have found it difficult to prove the full value of content marketing, which makes getting budget approval even harder. While actual revenue influenced is a key indicator of content marketing’s success, the value extends beyond just sales.

Content touches each part of the customer journey, from awareness to lead generation and purchase through retention. By measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) for each stage, you can show content marketing’s worth. Explore them all below.

Download our white paper to understand the importance of content marketing and six other consumer-centric trends in B2B marketing.

Stage 1: Awareness

Put simply, if people aren’t aware of your brand, there is no path to convert them. Grow your awareness by measuring how you’re being discovered. Here’s how:

  • SEO Positioning: It’s important to know where in the ranks you are showing up when people search unbranded keywords (keywords that are relevant to your business but that don’t use your brand or product names specifically).

    The better your ranking, the more authority your brand has: When you’re among the top results in a search, people are more likely to click through and potentially convert.

  • Organic Traffic: If people are seeking out your website and your content of their own volition, they are turning to you as an expert. By tracking this performance indicator, you can measure awareness, which is the first step toward sales.

“For most companies, there’d be no leads without traffic, no opportunities without leads, and no revenue without opportunities.”–Eric Ayotte, Curata2

Stage 2: Consideration

Once customers start discovering and visiting your site, you have to lead them to take action. Tie your KPIs to conversion goals and measure engagement with your calls to action. Here’s how:

  • Goal Conversion: What are the goals of your content? Some pieces may be direct, guiding customers to purchase. Others may solidify your brand as a knowledgeable expert in your space, which helps build trust and win business over time.

    Set up and measure these short- and long-term content conversion goals to solidify the value of your marketing in this stage of the funnel.

  • CTA Engagement: Your content may be engaging, but unless your CTAs are, too, content might not convert. See if your CTAs are working by looking at the click-through rate of your links, which measures the number of page views against the number of clicks on your CTAs.

    This KPI is important for pieces of content as well as submission forms. What percentage of visitors to your site or form were driven to complete an action?

Stage 3: Purchase

A rich and well-tracked content marketing campaign can affect your bottom line in many ways. In the purchasing stage, you’ll want to look at potential revenue and average value. Here’s how:

  • Potential Revenue: What’s the total value of the estimated opportunities that could be generated by your content? This is a good KPI to set early to support your budget estimations.

    For example, a piece could attract a lead who the sales team views as a good candidate for one of your tangential products or services. Now that this person is aware of and has some level of trust in your brand, you’re closer to a future sale.

  • Average Value: This KPI measures the value of a lead. It can be used to see if content marketing leads generate a higher value than leads from other channels. The quality of a lead is often determined through submission forms to access premium or gated content.

    When you’re tracking revenue and closed sales, trace leads back to their source. Does more real, potential and repeat value come from content marketing leads than from social media or other outlets?

Stage 4: Loyalty

As people build trust in your brand over time, engaging with your expertise, tips and other content, they grow more likely to support you (and spend money with you). Here’s how to see that loyalty:

  • Early Repeat Rate: This KPI measures the percentage of new customers who make multiple purchases within a period of time, based on the length of your sales cycle. By looking at your brand’s “stickiness,” you can start to build your strategies around these patterns.

    As you cultivate new buyers, there is an opportunity to take them down a specific path using content and communication. Those who follow it can become high-value customers for your business.

  • Average Order Value: This is the average amount spent by customers who interacted with your content, and should be compared with the amount spent by customers who didn’t. Are customers who read and engage with your content likely to spend more money on products and services?

    It’s almost always easier (and less expensive) to convince a current customer or reader to make a purchase than it is to recruit a new customer. Content marketing helps expose more people to your brand and products, building loyalty.

In Summary

While sales and revenue are important measures of the success of your content marketing, there are a number of other valuable performance indicators to prove its success. Invest time in measuring these eight simple KPIs to show that your content strategy is helping your business achieve its goals and reach important benchmarks.

For more on the value of content marketing in your B2B strategies, as well as six other key trends, download our white paper, 7 Customer-Centric Marketing Trends in the B2B Space.

Understanding Multi-touch Attribution: The Pros and Cons

Attribution means assigning the right amount of credit to each channel or touchpoint in an advertising campaign. It helps marketers better understand how channels are interconnected and how they perform and influence each other.

In companies where there’s pressure to track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and channels, multi-touch attribution can also help you justify your marketing activities and budget. It provides actual marketing performance metrics for business decision makers who are highly focused on return on investment (ROI).1 Read on to learn about multi-touch attribution and six different attribution models.

Defining Multi-touch Attribution

Multi-touch attribution—which assigns attribution to each channel—provides a more complete view of how marketing channels work together. In each of the many multi-touch models out there, a fraction of the conversion credit is assigned to each touch.

It’s important to note that multi-touch attribution requires the ability to track individual consumers across multiple channels. In this case, you would need to know for certain that the person who received the direct mail is the same person who received the email—and who also made the purchase.

Let’s look at a few of the different multi-touch techniques, evaluating the pros and cons of each.2

Linear Attribution

In this model, each touchpoint in the direct mail journey is awarded equal credit for the end result. It gives the same weight to a follow-up email sent to a customer as it would to a customer coming in-store to make a purchase.

Pros

Simple to set up and follow.

Cons

Doesn’t consider that different types of interactions are more or less important to the end result.

Time Decay Attribution

Here, credit grows as time passes, meaning the touchpoints closest to the result have more weight than those toward the beginning of the campaign. A click on a banner ad is considered less important than your direct mailpiece, which is in turn less important than the customer making a purchase.

Pros

Acknowledges that not every touchpoint should be considered equally.

Cons

Doesn’t measure the true importance of an early-stage interaction in an end result.

U-Shaped Attribution

In this model, two key touchpoints are given equal credit. The time between the two points is also weighted, but is less valuable than either of the key points.

Pros

Good for accurately looking at and reporting on early-stage leads.

Cons

Doesn’t measure any interaction after the second touchpoint.

U-Shaped Attribution infographic

W-Shaped Attribution

This model is similar to the U-shaped, but hits three key touchpoints instead of two. The remaining attribution accounts for the time and micro-touchpoints between the first and third interactions.

Pros

Accurately tracks the early-stage marketing side of an interaction.

Cons

Distribution isn’t flexible. Each key touchpoint must have the same weight.

W-Shaped Attribution infographic

Full-Path Attribution

One step beyond the W-shaped is the full-path attribution, which goes from first touchpoint to customer close.

Pros

Most thorough, taking into account that important interactions take place between the creation of an opportunity and the end result of a campaign.

Cons

Distribution isn’t flexible. All touchpoints have the same weight.

Full-Path Attribution infographic

Custom Attribution

Just as it sounds, this attribution is put together based on your business’ specific ideas. Each key touchpoint is weighted by you: how valuable do you think each touchpoint is to your process? Rank and value them, then apply those attributions to your specific model.

Pros

Entirely customizable to your needs.

Cons

Provides little guidance about what is most important, and can be difficult to start with if you haven’t measured with other models before.

Is Your Competition Using Attribution?

If your organization is just starting out with attribution, or hasn’t yet started, you’re not alone. Omni-channel attribution, in particular, is still a developing science.

The graphic below depicts the current state of attribution used by companies, according to a recent survey from Wpromote.3

28%

We don’t have an attribution model.

25%

Multi-channel (All Influencing Touchpoints)

16%

First and Last Touch

15%

First Touch

12%

Last Touch

3%

Not Sure

Make Your Marketing Smarter

If your company isn’t utilizing multi-touch attribution, consider starting an attribution program based on direct mail. That way you’ll be able to track how much direct mail contributes to the buying journey. A mature cross-channel attribution program can also help you:

  • Optimize your marketing mix.
  • Increase ROI.
  • Expand your understanding of the various marketing channels and how they work together.
  • Shorten the decision-making process.

In Conclusion

Multi-touch attribution is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can start small and work your way up. Every additional insight adds value, helping you distribute your marketing budget more strategically across channels, for more effective campaigns.

Adapt Your Logistics Process for Consumer Personalization

We live in a consumer-driven era of personalization and customization. Shoppers are no longer satisfied with products that are delivered the same way for every person. Instead, they are looking for and purchasing products that are tailored to fit their individual wants and needs.1 They are also patronizing businesses that help create that experience for them.

These preferences are changing the logistics landscape for shippers. It is essential for businesses to have adaptable models built on customer data and systems for communicating in order to survive now and in the future. Read on to learn more about the seamless experience customers crave and the tips that can lead you to success in a post-one-size-fits-all market.

The Customer-driven Ecosystem

Personalization and customization goes beyond monograms. Customers want businesses to anticipate their needs and create a smooth and rewarding experience.

Here’s an example:

A shopper adds something to her digital cart on a store’s website but doesn’t complete the purchase. The abandonment triggers a direct mail piece that is personalized with the item that was in her cart and offers a free-shipping discount. The mail piece arrives within 48 hours and the shopper then completes her purchase using the unique discount code to get free shipping. Her order is processed and shipped from a nearby location, arriving at her door as quickly as possible. This rounds out a tailored experience with a brand she showed interest in.

For customers, this experience can feel magical. But it only works if the business providing it has a flexible network that is rich in data and uses clear communication to maximize the efficiency of the supply chain.

Here are three tips for adapting your shipping and logistics processes to better capture your target audience:

Focus on your customers

The first step toward updating your processes is understanding who your customers are. Study the data they have provided you, from demographic basics to shopping habits. Do older shoppers prefer ordering online and picking up in store? Are male shoppers more influenced by promotions on social media?

Starting with customer data, you should be able to redefine your goals as a supplier. Maybe you’ll use this data to home in on customer satisfaction and build up your customer base instead of focusing solely on product sales. With a strong grasp of who your customers are, you can begin to see the path toward end-to-end visibility in your supply chain.

Build an integrated network

Many businesses see their platforms and tools as independent structures: a CRM tool doesn’t necessarily need to connect with a warehouse inventory system. However, both of those tools interact with customer data.

A CRM tool tracks how and when a customer buys something from your business. When an item is bought, the warehouse inventory system makes a note to replenish that item. Letting these two systems, among many others, talk to each other can greatly reduce downtime. This will help your shipping business run more efficiently.

In the same vein, it’s important that the different people within your business also communicate with one another. Let those in marketing communicate more regularly with those in shipping and logistics. Connecting different departments can lead to better ideas about how to optimize communications between systems.

Strengthen your supply chain

As you gather more data on your customers and allow your systems to communicate with each other, you’ll begin to see efficiency gaps in your supply chain. For example, if you see that many of your orders are coming from a location far from the nearest distribution center, you can find a more sustainable solution, such as shipping from a local store or adding another new fulfillment center closer to that area.

As your business expands internationally, you can also streamline supply-chain processes by partnering with global suppliers. Save time and money by sending orders through an outsourced fulfillment center closer to your global destinations.

Key Takeaways

Using valuable data and systems communications, you can adapt your current shipping and logistics process to curate a better direct-to-consumer experience. Take the time to learn who your customers are and what keeps them coming back to your business. Then, integrate your systems for better internal communications and reform your supply chain. Small changes along the way will help you emerge as a top player in this customer-experience-focused landscape.

Why Today’s Big Data Is A Big Deal For Marketers

Big Data + Direct Mail = Powerful Results

“Big data” has become much more than a buzzword. For marketers, it’s a virtual gold mine of information just waiting to be tapped. In the past, data was limited to surface demographics. Today’s big data digs deeper. It delivers details on who consumers are based on real-time, online behavior and interests. Integrating these valuable insights into your mail campaigns can help you better target your audience and help increase your ROI.

How Data of the Past Compares to Big Data of Today

  1. Small data of the past: general, vague

    • Urban dweller
    • 18 to 35 years old
    • Mid to upper income
    • Ethnic minority
    • Financial services professional
  2. Big data of today: targeted, specific

    • Currently lives in Manhattan near 55th and 7th Ave.
    • Spent $326 on clothes/shoes on Saturday
    • Returns 40 percent of what she buys online
    • Upset with recent experience at an airline; spread the word on social media
    • Never clicks on banner ads
    • Makes lists for everything; food shopping, uses a note-taking app for social functions.
    • Reliant on friends for technology ideas, but not afraid to try something new.

In Conclusion

Big data helps you personalize the customer journey by making your marketing messages more customized and relevant. By leveraging what you know about your target audience, you can complement your online efforts with a personalized mailpiece—adding another touchpoint that can move the customer to finalize the purchase. Direct mail is the perfect vehicle for harnessing big data because it helps turn browsing behavior into action.