Hopping Down The Bunny Trail: From Easter Tradition To The Digital Supply Chain

Richard Howells

Easter’s coming – and here in the United States, if you go out in public right about now, you’ll see Easter bunnies everywhere. It’s tradition. But where did this tradition come from?

According to history.com, some sources say the “the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.”

The eggs – “an ancient symbol of fertility and new life” – are as important as the bunny. The BBC says “originally, eating eggs was not allowed by the church during the week leading up to Easter (known as Holy Week). So, any eggs laid that week were saved and decorated to make them ‘Holy Week eggs,’ then given to children as gifts.”

Candy and more

Today, though we still decorate eggs, traditions have branched out in different directions. Here in the U.S., at least, the tradition is that kids get Easter baskets filled with candy.

This is good news for confectioners. When it comes to candy sales, Easter is second only to Halloween. Each year, says the National Confectioners Association, candy manufacturers make more than 16 billion jelly beans. This would be “enough to fill a giant egg measuring 89 feet high and 60 feet wide.”

But the truth is, Easter-related sales are rising across all sorts of categories other than candy. According to the National Retail Federation, spending for Easter will hit $17.3 billion in the U.S. – a new record. Consumers are expected to spend $146 per person, and although most everybody will buy candy (88.7%), more money will be spent elsewhere: “$5.5 billion on food, $3 billion on clothing, $2.7 billion on gifts, $2.4 billion on candy, and $1.2 billion on flowers.”

Beyond the goods: positive customer experiences

As manufacturers ramp up for this holiday – and any other holiday that boosts sales – the pressure is on to deliver more than just the goods. Today’s manufacturers need to deliver experiences as well. This, I believe, is the where leading companies are now competing.

Yes, there will always be a need for bulk jelly beans, but growth companies are looking to connect with customers in ways that build relationships and deliver the outcomes that customers want. Increasingly, the way to do this is through personalization.

One online candy store, for example, allows you to personalize your Easter-themed Hershey kisses with your kids’ names. Not only does this cut down on sibling arguments by delineating whose candy is whose, it also creates a personalized transaction (and product) between you and your customer – one that leads to far more “stickiness” than when a customer picks up a bag of candy at the grocery store.

The importance of digital

This is a relatively simple example, but even personalized messages require a fair level of digital supply chain sophistication. Ideally, you’d want to link up your online ordering system to an automated production process where the personalized messages are adhered to the candy wrappers and shipped off to the customer – with all the tracking necessary to know where you are in the production process at any point in time. This requires digital supply chain capabilities – from the e-commerce site on the front end to supplier coordination for fulfilling orders to real-time logistics for tracking the goods.

And remember, too, that the customer relationship doesn’t end at the point of delivery. The post-sale experience can be just as important.

A quick Christmas story

Take, for example, the experience a colleague of mine had this past Christmas. For his son, he ordered a pair of jeans from one company and a pair of boots from another. Both needed to be exchanged for different sizes.

The jeans retailer needed the item to be checked back into stock before sending out the new item in the new size. My colleague could have simply ordered the correct sized jeans, returned the original, and waited to get credited for the return. But he had never done business with the company before and lacked the trust that all would work out. Instead, he executed an exchange process that took almost two weeks.

Returning the boots, even though the circumstances were more challenging, was a better experience. In this case, he trusted the company and would have gladly purchased a new pair while sending back the old for an eventual credit. The glitch was that he had purchased the boots at a pre-Christmas 40% discount – and three days after Christmas the price had gone back up.

So, instead of having him pay the 40% extra for the new pair, the company issued him a 40% discount code that it honored as soon as it saw movement on the return. My colleague boxed up the boots and dropped them off at the post office where his preprinted return label was scanned. By the time he returned home, the company had already detected movement – whereupon he ordered the new boots at the right price.

Which company would you rather do business with? Happy Easter!

Looking to learn more about how your supply chain can stay ahead of the competition? Read this free IDC white paper “The Strategic Imperative for an Agile Supply Chain.”

About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.