How SMEs can build resilient supply chains for a thriving business

By Cornelia Raportaru, above, CEO, Stuart

The challenges faced by SMEs in 2023, such as soaring operational costs, inflation, and meeting new regulatory standards, forced many founders to adapt their business and operations strategies. Despite having the odds stacked against them, SMEs have proven their resilience, navigating unforeseen economic changes and testing moments on a global scale.

Even within this enduring volatile environment, SMEs can thrive in the year ahead by building resilient supply chains. This will allow them to achieve commercial objectives while advancing their sustainability offering. Recent research from Stuart found that, along with cost and delivery speed, sustainability remains front of mind for consumers in 2024, with over a quarter (27%) of shoppers willing to pay extra for eco-friendly options.

Consumers also continue to operate in an increasingly digital-first economy, and businesses must accelerate their efforts to serve customers both online and in person. To remain competitive in 2024, SMEs must continue to push robust and efficient deliveries. There is a critical window in the coming year to unlock the immense power of last-mile deliveries for their customers and businesses.

Leveraging technology to build a loyal customer base

Delivery services are a key link between the business and the customer, forming a critical part of the overall customer experience, and there is no question that consumer expectations are on the rise. Customers are pushing for enhanced delivery options that balance speed and cost, which can be incredibly challenging for SMEs with comparably fewer resources and less infrastructure at their disposal than bigger brands. Building in-house delivery capability from scratch is simply not an option for many businesses. It requires significant up-front investment, recruiting, training, and contracting couriers. Furthermore, the necessary vehicles must be purchased and maintained, while in-house systems and infrastructure need to be built from the ground up.

The answer for many SMEs is finding the right delivery specialists to partner with. This brings them all the benefits of efficient, established systems to deliver for their consumers without the significant financial implications of building their own fleet. However, it can often be overwhelming for business owners to settle upon the right delivery option for their needs, something we have explored in our Food Guide.

In an ever more competitive environment, building a loyal customer base is imperative to a business’ survival. While outsourcing order and delivery management to a food aggregator or marketplace platform may seem like a cost and time-effective solution, it can be hard to keep track of multiple online and in-house orders coming at once on several different devices. Seeing this gap in the market, new technology solutions such as Otter and UrbanPiper have emerged to streamline online orders in a more user-friendly way.

Partnering with the right organisations is critical for SMEs looking to expand their delivery business, as bad deliveries reflect poorly on the business. According to Deliverect, an overwhelming majority of customers (80%) will blame the vendor, not the delivery service, if their order arrives damaged or late. The delivery experience is intrinsically linked to customer retention and satisfaction, and this reputational risk can make many enterprises wary of outsourcing their delivery to a partner.

Leveraging delivery partners needn’t mean relinquishing control, though. With a third-party tech logistics partner, such as Stuart, restaurants can tap into a roster of independent couriers while maintaining the relationship with the customer. There is also the added benefit of pooling orders, which cuts costs and increases profits.

Consumer demand for sustainable delivery

The explosion of e-commerce and last-mile delivery services means urban logistics is at a critical turning point. The delivery landscape has embraced technology and automation, replacing ageing infrastructures with flexible, customer-focused solutions. Outdated models have been upgraded to custom delivery options, including same-day and next-day, to meet consumers’ expectations.

However, these expectations are constantly evolving. Our research found that one in four (25%) consumers would switch retailers due to a lack of a sustainable delivery option. The combination of customer values and purchasing power means that small businesses must incorporate the environmental delivery practices that are increasingly sought after by consumers.

The good news is that the landscape is changing for the better. Improved technology is becoming more accessible, and many delivery companies are pivoting to more eco-friendly models. Investing in sustainable solutions and innovations now will shore up businesses for the long term. As companies look to decarbonise, they must choose a delivery model that works for the unique needs of their business, improving efficiency, sustainability, and resilience.

SMEs are key to a thriving economy

In the modern landscape, SMEs can only thrive if they have an effective approach to delivery. There is no universal approach that will work for all businesses—each SME will have unique needs.

For last-mile delivery partners of SMEs, it is crucial to understand the specific objectives of small businesses and support them in achieving their goals. Similarly, SMEs looking to harness the benefits of last-mile delivery must remain future-focused and understand their unique requirements. They must look to choose partners that are well-suited and like-minded to support them as they grow and adapt.

Equipped with the right tools, SMEs will be able to build resilient and sustainable delivery systems that connect them with their customers while adapting to market changes.

According to the World Bank, SMEs represent around 90% of businesses  globally, providing over 50% of total employment. When small businesses thrive, so do local communities and the wider economy. We are committed to ensuring that SMEs can flourish in the future, no matter what lies ahead.