Lessons in Logistics: Santa Needs Elves, and Elves Need Santa

At the risk of destroying long-cherished childhood beliefs, I’m going to let you in on a secret. You know all those packages Santa delivers Christmas Eve? Well, the scale of the effort forced some changes a number of years ago. While the Big Guy in Red may be the face of the operation, it’s actually the girls and boys in green, Santa’s elves, that get the job done these days. Even magic reindeer and a sleigh with unlimited dimensional capacity cannot keep up with population demands. So instead of a single sleigh streaking across the skies, the modern operation consists of a vast fleet of dedicated green-clad sprites getting those presents to all good girls and boys.

Elves make Santa look good

All that hard work by a committed team is a great example of the magic that can happen when everyone down the line works hard toward a single goal, happiness for millions on Christmas morning. But here’s the thing, children everywhere are not writing letters to Santa’s elves, they aren’t featured in most songs and stories, and if the wrong present goes in the wrong stocking hung with care, Santa is the one that gets the customer complaint. Santa is The Brand.

Now consider the delivery folks out there in purple, brown, blue, and every other color of the rainbow. Their sleighs may be a tad less loaded, but the mission is the same: Execute flawlessly and make The Brand, better known in the world of ecommerce as the Retailer, look like a legend.

While the Big Guy in Red may be the face of the operation, it’s actually the girls and boys in green, Santa’s elves, that get the job done these days.

Retailers create Christmas morning year-round

In today’s highly competitive ecommerce world, retailers sell more than a product; they sell an experience. Every facet of the consumer experience has to be carefully thought out, curated, and developed into an encompassing whole. How and where to market to clients, the design and feel of the product, the ethos the company evokes, and the delivery of the product all make up the value of what the retailer offers. Retailers do not create that value all by themselves; they rely on their own teams of elves—designers, manufacturers, software providers, and logistics partners—to make that every day receipt of a package feel like Christmas morning every single time. The point is, just like Santa, the retailer gets the consumer visibility and the credit, they are The Brand.

This is because if any part of this experience fails to enhance The Brand, that consumer may very well not come back. Ecommerce delivery companies have worked tirelessly on building cost-effective, quality-driven infrastructures to meet retailers and the retailers’ consumers’ expectations. In particular, the explosion in delivery flexibility options has defined the new standard in consumer responsiveness.  

Consider the delivery folks out there in purple, brown, blue, and every other color of the rainbow. Their sleighs may be a tad less loaded, but the mission is the same: Execute flawlessly and make The Brand, better known in the world of ecommerce as the Retailer, look like a legend.

Comparatively speaking, Santa’s team has it easy. Sure, the Jolly Old Elf’s delivery manifests may be a bit long, but at the end of the day (or Eve as the case may be), he’s delivering one night a year. He’ll get there when he gets there and he’s leaving that package in only one location: down the chimney, next to the tree.  A brand’s elves will re-direct that package to a local pickup point in transit, respond to a consumer-specific delivery instruction, and keep everyone up to date on order status every step of the way. Every bit as important as the execution is that The Brand retains control and gets credit for the experience.

Santa controls the sleigh

Carriers that cannot or will not allow The Brand to maintain visibility, control, and ownership of the consumer experience dilute their value, irrespective of all the investment and hard work that goes into delivery excellence and flexibility. Awkward re-direction from The Brand site to confusing multiple interfaces dilutes the experience a retailer needs to infuse every step of a consumer interaction.

Those carriers that continue to triumph in the ecommerce market will find ways to seamlessly integrate all the value-added functionality into The Brand’s offering to the end consumer.  

Imagine if every one of The Brand’s elves did something like this. When a customer wants to choose a size or color, she has to contact  the manufacturer. Then check out is handled by the credit card company. They must reach out to the third-party warehouse for shipping and the carrier for delivery.  Should the consumer return the product, the confusion multiplies.

How does a Brand maintain the all-important consumer experience in that environment? Clearly, they cannot. Those carriers that continue to triumph in the ecommerce market will find ways to seamlessly integrate all the value-added functionality into The Brand’s offering to the end consumer.  

The Brand is Santa, those of us who support the Brand are elves. There is nothing wrong with being an elf.  It means we are all part of a grand operation that delivers joy and happiness to people all around the world.

 

Chris Miller is VP of Logistics at Narvar. He's an experienced leader with deep supply chain knowledge and a history of successfully leading organizations across all facets of operations, sales, and finance.