Finding a Supply Partner Using Social Media

What if you knew as much about prospective trading partners as you are able to learn about potential {complink 10867|Facebook} friends? Of course, the range of topics would be vastly different, so instead of knowing the names of their dogs and cats, you could find out whether they were experienced in drop-shipping to customers, or whether their catalog included a specific range of products you're considering. That's exactly the kind of access being touted in an emerging online tool.

The problems of growing a supply chain are remarkably similar to those of finding new friends. Beyond the basics of being in the same general industry, there is a whole range of qualifications that make one partner more viable than another, and some that will immediately disqualify a prospective relationship. And just as in a developing friendship, it's sometimes only after investing considerable time in getting to know the new partner that some critical information comes to light.

For personal relationships, that's just part of the dance, but for businesses expanding their product offerings and customer bases, that lost time often translates to missed opportunities and and even financial loss. SPS Commerce, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) based supply-chain enabler's business-social product, dubbed Retail Universe, is emerging as the tool providing capabilities analogous to Facebook or LinkedIn for scouting trading partners that meet the specific criteria a company is looking for.

In a recent report, supply-chain veteran Ken Kinlock quotes Eric Chaffee, SPS Commerce's director of product management, as saying:

    A supplier can use the directory to promote its capabilities to potential retail customers. A retailer can engage potential vendors in online sourcing conversations and exchange marketing information to streamline buying decisions.

In short, a retailer looking to add products to its online catalog can search Retail Universe for suppliers that offer specific product lines, are EDI enabled, and have the necessary infrastructure in place to fulfill online orders from the retailer's Website by shipping directly to the end customer. Of course, those are only a few of the criteria searches, and according to SPS' Chaffee, the system's capabilities are expanding rapidly.

Most all of the current social networking sites have taken criticism for the way they handle security, and some still get cited for the lack of control they provide their users over just who is able to view their information. Retail Universe apparently took its queues on this score, at least in part from Google Plus, which was first to introduce the concept of circles that allow its users to segment their connections into groups, with each circle having its own levels of access to information. Similarly, Retail Universe has “orbits” that allow member companies to share varying levels of information with their own defined groups of connected companies.

For example, a supplier could allow open access to its product list to any Retail Universe member, but restrict its pricing, terms, and other information to a selected set of trading partners. And it can establish multiple orbits, each with different sets of permissions based on the level of the relationship between the companies.

The world of social networking still has some distance to travel before it is as important to businesses as it is to individuals. But Retail Universe may be the first to offer the supply chain a viable way to find potential trading partners.

11 comments on “Finding a Supply Partner Using Social Media

  1. mfbertozzi
    May 24, 2012

    Apart Facebook follow-up on stock market, I believe this is a very good post Scott, I am convinced, in a such way, executives are still understimating how socials could allow benefits in business for companies they are managing…or maybe is a topic related to their education…then a step forward is needed !

  2. tioluwa
    May 24, 2012

    I think as a Novel approach in the supply chain, it is a great step. there is nothing quite like being able to get real time information, rather than wait for a mail.

    This in itself is not Social media, but it is a good adoption of social media concepts.

  3. Scott Koegler
    May 24, 2012

    Exactly. However, the lines that define 'social' are expanding. There are plenty of Social BUsiness initiatives, and I think this is a prime example.

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 24, 2012

    Almost everybody (maybe not, but most companies do)  is using social media nowadys, and there are many advantages using social media for business. But you have to know the tips to perform a successful search so that you won't be disappointed. This article shows some strategies to find a good business partner using LinkedIn. This can also used to “find a supply chain partner”.

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 24, 2012

    Fascinating article. I'll admit I was skeptical, as I was when I read that businesses were reaching out to angel investors via Facebook. I still have a major dividing line between social and business in my mind, but that's my issue and I realize I have to break those barriers down.

    That said, i like the idea of search for partners through their attributes, such as EDI-capable, drop-ship, etc. Kudos to Retail Universe for addressing some of the security issues as well. It is good to see that companies are harnessing some of he best things about social media and avoiding their pitfalls. It may very well be that a new model emerges that is a practical application for social media for business.

  6. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 24, 2012


    ” I'll admit I was skeptical, as I was when I read that businesses were reaching out to angel investors via Facebook.”

    Social media seem to be where many good things are happening today. It is no surprise that this is where investors are searching for new potential lucrative startups. Social and business may work  well together,   after all.

  7. Scott Koegler
    May 24, 2012

    I think segmentation of the audience and its data is one of the main strong points of RU. Being able to define what can be searched for by whom makes this attractive for both retailers and suppliers.

    In addition, I understand there are additional tools coming onboard that will assist suppliers that don't already have EDI compatible with a particular retailer to add the functionality and verify that it functions properly.

  8. Cryptoman
    May 25, 2012

    I particularly like the concept of 'orbits' as a means to defining access levels for different users. This is what adds the required organisation to a network thereby making it more usable for the retailers and the suppliers. I think establishing a hierarchy of access as in RU is a good representation of how we develop trust relationships in real life and that's what will make it work. As time goes by and as we get to know people more and more, they move up or down the hierarchy of trust in our minds depending on their behaviour, ethics, professionalism, consideration etc. This is equivalent to how the orbits in RU seem to work.

    This article is a very good example of how social media can be used for business purposes, which was also covered in another interesting article entitled “Business Socializing 101“. In that article, the focus was on the existing social networks whereas this article talks about a new one called Retail Universe.


  9. ahdand
    May 25, 2012

    Yes these are the plus factors in social media networks like FB, twitter and LinkedIn. It's just how you use it and the approach towards it is the deciding factor. If you use it wisely there will be good returns with less budgeting.

  10. Nemos
    May 25, 2012

    I liked very much the way that you present this new “social” software for the supply-chain companies. However, as in real life, the better way to know someone is to meet each other even with this software you will not avoid the business meetings.

  11. Anna Young
    May 31, 2012

    The level of access to different Users sounds exciting to me too Crptoman. For example, where a supplier could allow open access to its product list to any RU members, yet able to restrict similar to a selected few.

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