Product Supply Chain Is More Than Just Moving Product

Supply Chain Management is an important, but sometimes misunderstood, process for both Retailers and Suppliers. So many individuals, teams and departments impact the supply chain for both Retailers and Suppliers — understanding the implications of how decisions and recommendations affect the bigger picture is critical.

In net, supply chain management includes planning and management of all sourcing, procurement and conversion activities, plus all logistics management activities. It includes coordination and collaboration with channel partners including Suppliers, intermediaries, third-party service providers and Retailers.

Think of supply chain management as the link between major business functions and business processes within and across companies. It creates a cohesive and high-performing business model, including all of the logistics management activities and manufacturing operations. Supply chain management drives coordination of processes and activities with and across marketing, sales, product design, finance and information technology. 

Here are some resources to help you get started:

  1. Complimentary Download: Product Return Inventory Flows
  2. Course Video Preview: Strategic Supply Chain Management
  3. Course Overview: Strategic Supply Chain Management 

What is a Supply Chain?

A Supply Chain is a system of organizations, people, technology, activities, information and resources involved in moving a product or service from Supplier to Retailer. Supply chain activities transform natural resources, raw materials and components into a finished product that is delivered to the end Retailer. To compete and grow in today’s sophisticated retail environment requires special and consistent focus on optimizing supply network management.

The Purpose of the Supply Chain is to:

  • Offer the right products and services at the right time,
  • Across all of the different pieces of the supply chain,
  • At the lowest possible cost.

Effective management is advantageous for both Suppliers and Retailers, as it reduces cost of goods sold, thereby improving margins for both.

Who are the “Suppliers” and “Customers” in the Supply Chain?

There are many players in the supply chain, including factories, transportation, warehouses, networks and people, all of which add to the complexity of the process. You may think that the “Supplier” is always the consumer packaged goods company and the “Customer” is always the Retailer.

But, consider how the Supplier and Customer change in each step of the supply chain graphic below:


 The changes in roles are seen in 4 Steps:

  • Step 1: The CPG company is the Customer who receives raw materials from the producers.
  • Step 2: The CPG company becomes the Supplier to the Wholesaler or Retail Headquarters Customer. 
  • Step 3: The Retail Stores become the Customer once products are shipped from the Distributor or Warehouse Supplier.
  • Step 4: The Retail Store becomes the Supplier to the Consumer (the Customer) purchasing the product.

Each of the Suppliers and Customers at each point in the process are concerned about meeting supply demands, while controlling inventory levels. Any issues associated with meeting supply demands or running out of inventory have an impact on the total supply chain.

What “flows” across the Supply Chain? 

There are 3 flows in supply chain, only one of which are the products.



There are many different components that influence or are part of the information flow for Retailers, including general conditions of trade, product specifications, forecasting, inventory levels, order placement and order tracking. Below are three information flow examples:

GENERAL CONDITIONS OF TRADE (GCT). These are the Suppliers’ or Retailers’ rules and principles as they relate to business with their trading partners. Note that Retailers and Suppliers may have conflicting GCT and these conflicts need to be addressed and resolved.

General conditions of trade, or GCT, include:

  • Credit Terms
  • Minimum Order Quantities
  • Delivery Methods
  • Discounts
  • Return Policies 

FORECASTING. A sales forecast is a projection of the expected Retailer demand for products or services from a specific company. Forecasts are one of the most critical exchanges of information in the product supply chain. Forecasting is a prediction of what will occur in the future, and it is an uncertain process. The accuracy of the forecast is as important as the outcome.

INVENTORY LEVELS. Managing inventory throughout the supply chain is critical to cash flow for both the Supplier and Retailer. Inventory should be at the lowest levels possible without incurring out-of-stocks. Out-of-stocks at store level can occur at many different points in the product supply chain. By balancing availability, inventory and cost, Suppliers and Retailers can both benefit. Of note is that Retailers are increasingly relying on Suppliers’ management of in-store products — this is called VMI (Vendor-Managed Inventory) or Supplier-Managed Inventory.   


The Product flow begins with a product’s raw materials and continues as finished goods flow, fulfillment of product orders, transportation of products, and product returns. There are many detailed steps in this process that touch many desks for both Suppliers and Retailers. 


Financial flow relates to product pricing and invoicing, credit terms and early payment discounts and accounts receivable. Effective management of accounts receivable increases cash flow for the business, freeing up funds for operations, marketing, inventory and capital investments for both Suppliers and Retailers.

The Role of a Retailer’s Logistics Operations

The larger Retailers in the world run some of the largest and most sophisticated logistics operations, but even small Retailers strive to keep logistics costs low in order to increase operating margins. As part of their logistic strategies, Retailers may:

  • operate their own trucking fleets to deliver goods from their warehouse(s) to their stores;
  • own distribution centres as means of reducing transportation costs, increasing service levels and reducing the number of deliveries to its stores; and
  • focus their efforts to increase the sustainability of their entire operations.


In summary, the supply chain is affected by many decisions and choices across different business units, departments and teams. It is important for your multi-functional teams to understand all aspects of the entire product supply chain, and consider how recommendations and changes at their desks will affect the supply chain both for them and their customers.

Download "Product Return Inventory Flows" Example Document from Category Management Knowledge Group


Want to learn more about Product Supply Chain? Category Management Knowledge Group can help you, your team or your organization through a single course or a customized program. We have some great category management training options available to meet your needs. You can preview our brand new, accredited Strategic Supply Chain Management course below:




Link to Purchase "Strategic Supply Chain Management" Category Management Training Course

$125 USD

30-day Access



Reference Guide

Knowledge Checks

Course Test


Topics: Retailer Solutions, Category Management

Written by Sue Nicholls, Founder & President CMKG

Training and learning are my passions. I have felt privileged to have the opportunity to teach others since early on in my my career at P&G in the '80s (when category management was just beginning in North America). I have dedicated my work life to building and sharing this passion with others through active involvement in the industry, including long-term business relationships with large Retailer and CPG executives, development and influence on industry standards, curriculum, and conference education, thought leadership publishing and presentations at numerous industry conferences, and as a member on several university advisory boards. I am also an Adjunct Professor teaching consumer behavior in a Marketing Program.

I have developed over 150 hours of online curriculum, developed and facilitated hundreds of instructor-led training sessions, and had the privilege of working with retailers, suppliers and solution providers around the globe alongside an evolving industry. The challenge is to anticipate what's next and find ways to teach our students the skills required to compete and stay relevant.

Learning is a journey for everyone - individuals, teams, organizations, and yes, even training companies. You can't put training in a can, automate it and call it a day - it needs to evolve, be nourished, and continually improve. Through this blog and other channels, I share my years of expertise with our industry and believe that an open and ongoing conversation can improve any team’s capacity to implement business strategies that achieve their strategic priorities.