Physical distribution is the group of activities associated with the supply of finished product from the production line to the consumers. The physical distribution considers many sales distribution channels, such as wholesale and retail, and includes critical decision areas like customer service, inventory, materials, packaging, order processing, and transportation and logistics. You often will hear these processes be referred to as distribution, which is used to describe the marketing and movement of products.
Accounting for nearly half of the entire marketing budget of products, the physical distribution process typically garnishes a lot of attention from business managers and owners. As a result, these activities are often the focus of process improvement and cost-saving initiatives in many companies.
Importance of Physical Distribution
The importance of physical distribution to a company can vary and is typically associated with the type of product and the necessity it has to customer satisfaction. Strategically staging products in locations to support order shipments and coming up with a rapid and consistent manner to move the product enables companies to be successful in dynamic markets.
Physical distribution is managed with a systems approach and considers key interrelated functions to provide efficient movement of products. The functions are interrelated because any time a decision is made in one area it has an effect on the others. For example, a business that is providing custom handbags would consider shipping finished products via air freight versus rail or truck in order to expedite shipment time. The importance of this decision would offset the cost of inventory control, which could be much more costly. Managing physical distribution from a systems approach can provide benefit in controlling costs and meeting customer service demands.
Functions of Physical Distribution
The key functions within the physical distribution system are:
- Customer service
- Order processing
- Inventory control
- Transportation and logistics
- Packaging and materials
- The customer service function is a strategically designed standard for consumer satisfaction that the business intends to provide to its customers. As an example, a customer satisfaction approach for the handbag business mentioned above may be that 75% of all custom handbags are delivered to the customer within 72 hours of ordering. An additional approach might include that 95% of custom handbags be delivered to the customer within 96 hours of purchase. Once these customer service standards are set, the physical distribution system is then designed to attain these goals.
- Order processing is designed to take the customer orders and execute the specifics the customer has purchased. The business is concerned with this function because it directly relates to how the customer is serviced and attaining the customer service goals. If the order processing system is efficient, then the business can avoid other costs in other functions, such as transportation or inventory control. For example, if the handbag business has an error in the processing of a customer order, the business has to turn to premium transportation modes, such as next day air or overnight, to meet the customer service standard set out, which will increase the transportation cost.
- Inventory control is a major role player in the distribution system of a business. Costs include investment into current inventory, loss of demand for products, and depreciation. There are different types of inventory control systems that can be implemented, such as first in-first out (or FIFO) and flow through, which are methods for businesses to handle products.
- First in-fir st out, or FIFO, is a method in which the new products coming into the warehouse replace existing products of the same SKU so that merchandise is cycled and does not expire or become old as more recent production is available. Flow through, on the other hand, is product that does not get processed in the warehouse. It is offloaded from an inbound trailer, pushed across the warehouse and onto outbound trailers for departure without being stored in the warehouse.
The basic elements of specific functions that make up physical distribution include (i) Materials handling; (ii) inventory planning and control ; (iii) order processing ; (iv) transportation ; and (v) a communication system to integrate the physical distribution process.’
These components of Physical Distribution are explained below:
- Materials Handling:
It involves moving products in and out of a stock. It consists of routine tasks that can be performed through mechanisation and standardisation. Efficiency is increased through use of electronic data processing to control conveyor systems, order picking and other traffic flaws.
The modern mechanised handling services and protective packaging have improved the level of customer service and at the same time lowered physical distribution costs. Material handling and packaging services have also speeded up the order processing and movement of consignments.
- Inventory Planning And Control:
Inventory refers to the stock of products a firm has on hand and ready for sale to customers. Inventories are kept to meet market demands promptly. Inventory is the link interconnecting the customer’s orders and the company’s production activity.
Infact the entire physical distribution management rotates around the inventory management. Inventory management is the heart of the game of physical distribution.
Marketing managers undertake an inventory planning to develop adequate assortments of products for the target market and also try to control the costs involved in obtaining and maintaining inventory.
Marketing managers generally take three decisions while conducting inventory management, viz, (i) how can the track be kept, on a day-to- day basis of location, amount and the condition of the inventory? (ii) How can inventory information best be channelled to production managers or buyers for resale to help them schedule their activities? (iii) What inventory information can other departments in the organisation use to help them perform their functions efficiently?
- Purchasing /Order Processing:
Order-processing and inventory control are related to each other. Order processing is considered as the key to customer service and satisfaction. It includes receiving, recording, filling, and assembling of products for dispatch. The amount of time required from the dates of receipt of an order up to the date of dispatch of goods must be reasonable and as short as possible.
It comprises in undertaking the processes that are needed to make certain orders processed quickly, accurately, and efficiently. The marketing manager has to decide about these along with such issues as what is the most efficient way to bill customers; how cans the paper work may be minimized? And how can the physical function of assembling orders more efficiently?
-Discuss the aspects covered in designing distribution system.
-Discuss the aspects covered in monitoring and evaluating the efficiency of a distribution system.
-Explain challenges encountered when devising and evaluating distribution system.