Supply Chain Digest recently reported on barriers to collaboration between vendors and retailers. In a finding consistent with IACCM's annual surveys, they discovered that 'it's not me who fails to collaborate, it's them'.
Many may be surprised that most major retailers would ever think of themselves as 'collaborative' with their suppliers. In many cases, there is a massive gulf in relative power and the media headlines frequently suggest that this imbalance is something that the industry exploits. If commercial terms are anything to go by, there appears little room for collaboration. The research points to lack of trust as a fundamental issue – but of course this is generally a symptom, driven by other factors.
There are clues to those other factors in some of the scores. For example, the highest ranked difficulty identified by retailers is how to apportion gainshare, whereas for vendors the top challenge is the lack of collaborative skills exhibited by their customer. Vendors also see real problems in the availability of tools, data and executive support – this last item being perhaps linked to the fact that they see little evidence of a good return on investment from collaboration.
Ultimately, it is most likely the absence of any apparent financial benefit that is killing collaborative relationships. The fact that the retailers see the allocation of benefits as the biggest issue speaks volumes for industry behavior and attitudes. It confirms that for many, it is better to generate no benefit at all than to face the prospect of sharing that benefit with a vendor.
In an industry where margins are low, collaboration is a major source of cost reduction and innovation. But right now, a transactional mentality is in many cases destroying the possibility of value-add negotiations. Case studies have shown the opportunities that exist, especially when collaboration is handled across a category portfolio, not just with individual suppliers. However, this requires far more expansive thinking and a focus on value rather than price - something that the research shows is a distant dream for many in the retail sector.