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supply chain trends 2024

2024 Supply Chain Trends & Failed 2023 Predictions

By Published On: November 25, 2023


2024 supply chain trends will be difficult to predict. First we have to figure out what went on in 2023 and where some of those predictions fell short.

The year in supply chain has been full of change and disruption. Some of the predicted supply chain trends in 2023 came to fruition and some didn’t. We know that no one has a crystal ball and that prognosticators often fail. We’re going to look at some things that panned out and others that didn’t and what that might mean for 2024.

Make no mistake about it: we live in disrupted times. Change management is becoming more of a must have skill set in supply chain, rather than a luxury. Companies and individuals have tried to avoid this difficult reality- but constant change appears to be a fact. Active participation in large scale transformations will accelerate your supply chain career path, regardless of what might or might not happen. Change can either be managed properly and happen for you or not managed properly and happen to you. Being prepared for these major disruptions can help you handle the lack of a crystal ball. But as we’ll also see, being over-prepared for what might happen can also derail meaningful capacity expansion.

2023 Supply Chain Predictions That Did Not Pan Out

To be or not to be? We find ourselves in Q4 doing a bit of a post-mortem in 2023 as we head down the home stretch. Most of this quarter will likely be buttoning up 2023 and business planning for 2024 headed into the holidays. It’s known that things begin to slow down at Thanksgiving and December gets notoriously quiet so count on about 60 days left to get meaningful work done. Could be helpful to look back on your year and prepare for 2024. And we’re here to help you do that! Here’s what folks got right and wrong in 2023.

Technology will Drive Growth and AI will Take Over

This came to bear and also didn’t. Let us explain.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) absolutely came on like gangbusters. When chatGPT dropped in early spring, things changed quickly. AI has been a supply chain tool for about a decade, with tech native companies and big brands like Coke and Home Depot testing and deploying machine learning technologies and other algorithmic decisioning tools. AI made more advancements into the market in the last 5 years, but nothing like what happened in 2023 or will happen in 2024.

This rapid rise in artificial intelligence seems to have created a gold rush mentality around supply chain tech and automation. People are coming out of the woodwork with pitch decks about how this new piece of tech will revolutionize supply chain management practices. The problem is that the big tech guys demand high prices and the start-ups want you to fund their concept. Everyone says they have the “silver bullet” for supply chain technological innovations, but no one has proven that it can kill werewolves.

In short: show me, don’t tell me.

Supply chain leaders have grown a bit weary of all the emerging tech pitches. People don’t want to be trend setters when it comes to adopting unproven technology solutions. This has somewhat slowed digital adoption because of credibility risks, despite 2023 supply chain trends forecasting the exact opposite.

Leaders are being more methodical in vetting new technology and are more desirous of customized solutions, tailored to their very specific needs rather than an unproven tech for a swath of an industry. This movement has actually slowed some tech adoption. The smart ones want to talk directly to referenced clients who have seen value from deployment of a new technology solution.

The horse is out of the barn, however, and won’t be corralled. But the rapid rise in tech has been tempered by the diminished appetite for supply chain risk.

2024 Supply Chain Trend: Tech will continue to dominate the market but prices will normalize and proven tools will be adopted across industries. Operational leaders need to be up to speed on these tools.

Cyber Security will Derail Lots of Profits

This prediction came true. 10 months into 2023 and a lot of major brands are reporting heavy losses via freight theft. These robberies are happening as cyber criminals hack into communications between the company and their freight brokers. The cargo is delivered and awaiting pick-up. But before the designated recipient can lay claim to their haul, the cargo is stolen. In May, California authorities busted a $150 million cargo theft ring. Major retailers were involved in this theft and continue to struggle to head these bandits off at the pass.

Retailers need to practice more due diligence when dealing with freight brokers and other partners and ensure that they have the latest cyber security measures deployed by each party.

2024 Supply Chain Trend: Cyber crime will continue to be an issue. Organizations need to learn from past failures and be sure to vet vendors and perform due diligence, especially on the cyber security front.

The Recession that Never Was…YET!

On October 17, 2022, Bloomberg Economics published an article saying that there was a 100% chance for a recession within the next year.


Now, did Bloomberg Economics not realize that crystal balls aren’t a real thing?? Cuz…

We all heard the saber rattling of “pending recession.” Supply chain employers especially heard it because bad news hits the supply chain first and hardest. So what did they do? They tightened their belts. Battened down the hatches. Prepared for a downturn in spending. 

Well…what happened?

Profits went up.

Consumer demand went up.

Inflation, yes, went up as well.

Employers were simultaneously trying to scale up to meet demand while being cost weary about a possible recession. How can you have a growth mindset when you’re being told that heavy capital investments could be risky due to what might happen? They’re caught between a rock and a hard place because capacities need to expand, new technologies need to be implemented, and the doughnuts have to continue to be made at a higher volume – all of which requires money. But…we’re not supposed to spend the money…so which is it?

10 months into 2023, no recession. The September jobs report showed twice as many jobs created, 336,000, then was forecast. Speculative markets remained mostly stable with the stock market at basically the same place in October as it was in January. All of this despite geopolitical upheaval, American political chaos, and climate change impacting shipping and freight movements.

Now, just so we don’t jinx ourselves, this doesn’t mean that a recession won’t happen soon. A Fortune magazine article from October 5 cites a lag in the impacts of inflationary pressures on markets and GDP. Interest rates above 8 percent continue to slow investment in everything from housing to new technology.

Tip: Spend money on talent!!! I wrote about the importance of quality supply chain talent and hires for this year and moving forward in this piece from March. This may seem obvious but you’d be surprised at how many employers of influence don’t place a premium on their executive hires.

2024 Supply Chain Trend: Neutral market growth of 1%-2% that spurs employers to innovate hiring practices and innovation tactics.

2024 Return to Office?

We saw business centers in major metropolitan areas take some big hits in 2023. The combination of ecommerce spikes and remote working diminished foot traffic in business districts. These storefronts once relied upon weekday business traffic to fuel sales. So not only are the offices sitting empty but the collateral damage hit a lot of other retailers in these areas.

We’re not mentioning this to make anyone feel bad for the banks holding these leases. As we mentioned, they’re doing just fine. But, what we are saying is that as hiring slows and the market returns to favor employers, they’re going to have more latitude to make demands on their employees. One of these demands could be to insist on returning to the office.

A CNBC article from September of 2023 cited a study reporting that 90% of companies surveyed planned to implement some form of return to office policy by the end of 2024. These are pretty bold numbers given the current state of affairs, especially in supply chain. We don’t expect these numbers to hold for such highly specialized fields where there’s not enough talent to fill positions, much less aid in operational expansions.

Supply chain management, supply chain operations and other aspects of supply chain organizations are very complex and require highly specialized and experienced supply chain professionals to operate. The rise of the digital supply chain has added further complications to these roles and employers are weary of sunk costs in bad hires. The last thing they want to do is make the available talent pool even more shallow. If you can’t find a logistics pro with the right level of analytics expertise, you’re going to increase your options and depth of search and likely engage a specialized search firm who can find someone who can work remotely or even in a flexible format.

Conclusion: What to Look for in 2024

It goes without saying that volatility will remain the constant in supply chain. Whims of consumer demand, shipping and freight interruptions, rise in automation and tech, and other geopolitical disturbances will create more chaos than usual. 2023 shook out mostly as expected with the exception of the incoming recession (yet!) and some normalizations in the tech start up markets. But, given the recent rise in global conflict and unprecedented climate events, 2024 is likely to be more of the same. Some things to keep an eye on as we enter 2024:

  • Recession: not out of the woods yet with high interest rates increasing hurdles for capital investment and turmoil in the middle east along with rising concerns in China and the ongoing war in Ukraine could strain the price of oil and at minimum create uncertainty in the markets.
  • Onshoring and nearshoring continue: Many of these wheels are already turning so this is not a bold prediction. Its impacts are the real story as the right talent to start up new plants in the US and run them competitively will emerge as a bigger story. The states and regions that support industry will be the winners.
  • We will be in an election year that will again bring angst and differences to the forefront. These are challenging topics for all and can creep into the workplace. It is impossible to say how things will shake out but state of mind of employees in the third and fourth quarter of 2024 will be impacted.
  • Emphasize Talent. Your people will help you weather these disruptions. Be creative with your hires as well.

We work hard to stay current on supply chains, trends in supply chain management, and thought leadership by releasing articles and podcasts with some of the best supply chain organizations. Your supply chain resilience is highly dependent on these trends and whims in the industry. Stay tuned to our content hub!  The future of supply chain is murky but we do our best to help see around the next bend. It’s important for all of us to know what’s coming next, or at the very least, to make as educated a guess as possible.

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