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More Lessons from Apple: iPhone X Logistics


Friday January 5, 2018

Apple’s exemplary supply chain is a model in the tech industry. But when it released the iPhone X shortly before the 2017 holiday buying season, its logistics functions became paramount.  According to a recent Forbes article, Apple exerted great effort to ensure estimated delivery dates were met or exceeded. “That’s because, behind the scenes, an operation with military precision, staffed by obsessive perfectionists, was coming together, and had gone into action weeks in advance,” David Phelan writes.

Apple delivers its products worldwide, and its team studies individual ZIP codes to determine which of its myriad delivery organizations has the best history of delivering quickly to millions of different areas. Apple works with national carriers, airlines and local companies.

“When you log on to order a product, the system not only knows the stock levels but also how long it will take to get [the item] to you,” Phelan writes. To identify the delivery date, the system accounts for a variety of factors, including rural versus urban delivery.

Of course, Apple also takes security very seriously, especially during the release of its new products. Phelan describes how Apple’s carriers, accompanied by a security escort, collect the phones the day before the launch date. Carriers must abide by certain security requirements, but Apple keeps its own security measures confidential. Its spokespeople told Phelan they work preventively and proactively to protect the products.  

On November 3, iPhone X’s launch date, Apple’s logistics team monitored hundreds of flights, thousands of carrier delivery hubs and tens of thousands of delivery vehicles. “A fulfilment rate of even a whisker less than 100 percent would not be considered a success,” Phelan writes.

Delivering in time for Christmas took even more coordination and more than a dozen meetings every day. If an order was delayed, Apple made a contingency plan that might include same-day carriers delivering stock from distribution centers and retail stores. If that failed, Apple offered the customer an alternative iPhone, such as one with a different memory capacity or color, and sent the substitute to him or her immediately.

At Apple, the supply chain professionals, along with all the employees and partners, are charged with the mantra, “Delight the customer.”

Moving ahead

Companies, like Apple, have embraced and invested in their supply chains to gain competitive advantages. For example, consider how seriously Apple takes delivery reliability, which is defined by the APICS Dictionary as, “A performance criterion that measures how consistently goods and services are delivered on, or before, the promised time.”

As we begin 2018, how will you “delight your customer”? More and more, customers want to know exactly when to expect delivery of their products. Are your systems and staff capable of providing that information reliably? APICS can help in a variety of ways, from education and certification to publications and research. Visit today to advance your career and your organization’s supply chain.