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Focus: Distribution/Materials Handling

Feature Article from Our Distribution and Materials Handling Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

SCDigest Editorial Staff

Jan. 4, 2011

Supply Chain News: Understanding Retail Distribution Models


Use of Crossdocking is Growing, but There are Pros and Cons to Each Approach, Says Auburn's Kevin Gue

A few weeks ago, SCDigest published an article on different alternative building designs for crossdocking, based on research from Dr. John Bartholdi of Georgia Tech and Dr. Kevin Gue of Auburn University. (See Getting Cross Dock DC Design Right.)

That in turn led us to additional research Gue has done on crossdocking, especially in the retail sector where the practice of crossdocking is by the most common - indeed, it is difficult to find many examples of true crossdocking outside of the retail sector.

Gue observes that there are three primary models for delivering goods to retail stores:

SCDigest Says:

It might initially appear that the traditional distribution approach is the most costly - and while it clearly is from a handling only perspective, there are other considerations.
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1. Traditional Warehousing/Distribution, in which vendors ship goods to retail DCs, where the goods are stored until store orders need fulfilled, where they are then picked (often using a "wave" process" for batches of stores) and delivered to the stores.

2. Crossdock DCs, in which shipments from inbound suppliers are moved directly to outbound vehicles, with very little if any storage in between. In the best possible situation, products never touch the floor or a shelf, though some amount of staging is often used.

3. Direct to Store Delivery, in which vendors ship goods directly from their own facilities to retail store outlets.

In reality, many if not most retailers probably use some type of hybrid system, with an increasing number of them, for example, running both crossdock and traditional distribution operations in a single facility, which many thought too difficult to manage in the past.

Home products giant Home Depot, as another example, is substantially through a multi-year project to transform its model from one in which some 75% of goods were delivered by vendors direct to its stores and 25% from Home Depot DCs to the exact reverse of that. Home Depot is using a new network of crossdock-focused Regional Distribution Centers (RDCs) to get that job done.

Another model that is emerging is the so-called "DC Bypass" approach for imported goods, in which import DCs would transload the arriving containerized goods for manufacturers and ship the imported products directly to retail DCs - and maybe even retail stores - without the products moving into the manufacturer's distribution network at all.

(Distribution/Materials Handling Story Continues Below)


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For the first three models, Gue has nicely summarized the pros and cons of each approach in a summary graphic, as shown below.



Source: Kevin Gue/International Commerce Review


Looking at the chart, it might initially appear that the traditional distribution approach is the most costly - and while it clearly is from a handling only perspective, there are other considerations, Gue says.

Direct-to-store, he notes, has the disadvantages of some loss of control of stock availability, high costs of receiving at stores (imagine weekly shipments from every vendor), and often much higher transportation costs, since vendor shipments often use expensive less-than-truckload or parcel shipment modes.

The crossdock model also has some downsides. It also sacrifices some inventory control by not holding buffer stock between the vendor and store, but unlike shipping direct-to-store it maintains transportation efficiencies by consolidating small shipments into full truckloads for store deliveries.


While the benefits of reducing an entire layer of network inventory through the crossdock model are huge, there are other factors that must be considered, Gue says. For example:


(1) Lead time from order to delivery at the store is longer than with traditional distribution, so stores typically have to hold slightly more stock to hedge against stockouts. If vendors are far away, lead time could be several days.


(2) Unlike direct delivery from vendors, crossdocking requires the retailer to buy (or lease) and operate crossdocks, or to pay a third-party logistics provider to do so.


(3) Crossdocking requires greater coordination with vendors, sometimes with painful details of implementation.

Still, the trend clearly seems to be towards greater use of crossdocking in retail.

Next week, we will look at Gue's recommendations on where each model fits best, and how to make the transition from one to another.


What would you add to Gue's summary of retail distribution models? Are there good reasons not to crossdock in retail? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.


ur feedback

Recent Feedback



Solid article, concise summary of the trends in place. The other advantage of a Deconsolidation/Transload program at a gateway facility for imported container merchandise – it allows the customer to postpone distribution decisions for another 2-3 weeks. This allows for flexibility in responding to demand changes.
In my experience, retailers can employ more than one and sometimes all 3 methods, depending on the merchandise category and priorities for their network.
Tom Donovan
tdSHIPS, Inc. 




The pictorial model is nice and concise, my only concern is that the comparison of material handling does not ring true for traditional versus cross dock as a direct comparison as my experience tells me costs get pushed upstream in a cross dock environment which would probably require a more holistic diagnostic.
Ryan Maritz
Managing Director
The Distributors National Support
Editor’s Note:
I am curious, can you explain a bit more what you mean? Do you mean back to suppliers?
Dan Gilmore
Yes that is correct the supplier would end up with increased costs, e.g.,  if the less than full truck load is made up of less than full pallets, then the picking and preparation would have to be done at the vendor resulting in an increased cost in their supply chain. Australia also has some interesting models where convenience retailers BP / 7-Eleven / Caltex (Chevron) have set up cross dock facilities and no one can definitely say if they are more or less efficient.
Ryan Maritz