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A Literature Review on Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

The Changes of the Business Environment

Many businesses have witness the trend of intensifying of competition, of which that largely give rise to the argument that any company that want to survive and even thrive in the long run must become more efficient and effective, so to reduce the operational costs as well as in enhancing the level of customer services provided to the marketplace (Ou, Liu, Hung & Yen, 2010; Towill & McCullen, 1999; Dong, Xu & Dresner, 2007; Sherman, 1998; Bernstein, Chen & Federgruen, 2006). Under such an environment, more and more attentions have been paid or concentrated on the needs or importance of managing a supply chain, on how the supply chain management may affect the performance of an organization in the current economic climate (Collins, Worthington, Reyes & Romero, 2010; Fu, Flood, Bosak, Morris & O’Regan, 2013; Lin, Chu-Hua & Kang-Wei, 2013; Zhang, Donk & Taco, 2011). Indeed, consistent with such a business environment, issues such as to match supply with demand, to ensure stock availability for customers, the performance of goods delivery as well as the effective inventory management programmes are becoming some of the common objectives for a firm (Hariga, Gumus, Daghfous & Goyal, 2013). To cope with the various challenges as mentioned above, businesses started to aware and recognise of the importance of sharing information, in order to manage the entire supply chain more effectively and efficiently, for mutual benefits of all of the partners collaborated across the supply chain (Cheng & Wu, 2005). As such, it is witnessed about the rise and increasing popularity of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) – a system that is characterised by the sharing of information, close collaboration and vendor-managed supply chain. In the next section, some of the more important concepts of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) will be further discussed and explained.

The Concepts of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

The concepts of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) are well discussed within the literature, but the definition or descriptions used by the different scholars are not alike. In other words, the different scholars tend to describe the concept of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) differently. There is currently yet to have an authoritative definition of vendor-managed inventory (VMI). Nevertheless, it would be insightful to review the various definitions about vendor-managed inventory (VMI) available. These are presented accordingly in Table 1 below.

 

Table 1: Concepts of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

Scholars Descriptions
Smaros, Lehtonen, Appelqvist & Holmstrom (2003) Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is actually the information sharing practices that provide the manufacturers to have access to more information pertaining to customers, especially the demands estimate or point of sales data at the end of the supply chain.
Hongjie, Ruxian, Zhigao & Ruijiang (2011) Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is an inventory management model of supply chain.
Disney & Towill (2003) Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is about the supply chain idea and strategy that vendor or supplier (of a retailer) is given the responsibility of managing the customer’s stock.
Yu, Wang & Liang (2012) Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is the practices whereby the vendor manages the inventories of its own and its multiple downstream retailers
Hariga, Gumus, Daghfous & Goyal (2013) Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is a supply chain partnership strategy that allows a supplier to place orders on behalf of its customers.
Çetinkaya & Lee (2000) Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is a supply-chain initiative where the supplier is authorized to manage inventories of agreed-upon stock-keeping units at retail locations.
Razmi, Hosseini & Sangari (2010) Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is a mechanism where the supplier creates the purchase orders based on the demand information exchanged by the retailer/customer; whereby it can also be described as a backward replenishment model where the supplier does the demand creation and demand fulfilment.

 

Overall, it can be noticed that while the various description or definition provided by the different scholars differ, these definitions or description share similar themes. Specifically, the concept of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is about the supply chain collaboration strategy that the supplier will manage the inventory replenishment process ion behalf of the clients; when the clients share the market demand information to the suppliers. Anyway, the concepts related to Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) can be further understood through reviewing some of the distinguishing features of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). Such discussions will be provided below.

Key Criteria of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

It is valid to assert that scholars had yet to agree upon a standardised system or best practices concerning Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI), and the different scholars had indeed suggested a variety and range of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) strategies. For that, it is important to recognise that Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) can come in many forms (Elvander, 2007). For example, as discussed in Disney & Towill (2003), some of those forms include: centralised inventory management (CIM), collaborative planning, forecasting and replenishment (CPFR), continuous replenishment (CR), efficient consumer response (ECR), quick response (QR), rapid replenishment (RR), as well as synchronized consumer response (SCR). Yet, as cited in Hongjie, Ruxian, Zhigao & Ruijiang (2011), Arora, Chan, and Tiwari (2010) had suggested and proposed a total of four different variations of delivery strategies under the context of inventory and logistics management within the scope of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). The four strategies are as follow: (i) the suppliers are responsible to deliver all of the goods to all of the retailers; (ii) the suppliers will only responsible to deliver goods to those retailers whose demands had exceed certain threshold level; (iii) the suppliers will be responsible to deliver goods to the retailers only when the combined aggregate demand of all of the retailers exceed a pre-determined level; and (iv) suppliers will only be responsible to deliver goods to some of those retailers whose demand exceeds a pre-determined target, under the condition that the combined aggregate demand of all retailers reaches certain pre-agreed threshold level.

However, albeit that there are various types of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) system, they share similar attributes. For example, one distinguishing concept under Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) practices is that the suppliers (or any business entities within the upstream of a particular supply chain) will deliver goods to the retailers (or any business entities in the downstream of the supply chain) based on the needs and demands of those downstream businesses, rather than to passively deliver goods to those retailers as were in the cases of the traditional supply chains (Hongjie, Ruxian, Zhigao & Ruijiang, 2011). The key way to enable such goods distribution and delivery strategy is that all of the scattered and small demand data at the points of the downstream businesses are provided to the upstream businesses (Hariga, Gumus, Daghfous & Goyal, 2013; Çetinkaya & Lee, 2000).

In other words, the responsibility to manage the inventory replenishment at the end of the point of sales is shouldered by the vendor; and that the vendor will proactively monitor their clients’ inventories, and decide when and how much inventory should be replenished for the respective clients (Campbell & Savelsbergh, 2004). The mechanism is made possible by the sharing of information between the vendors as well as the clients (Razmi, Hosseini & Sangari, 2010). From there, the vendors (of which are typically the manufacturers or suppliers) can access and get the data pertaining to the inventory levels as well as the prediction on future demands, so that the vendors can proactively supply to the clients (of which are typically the retailers) automatically. The roles of the retailers or clients however, are just to ensure a continuous flow of information to enable the manufacturer to formulate realistic order proposals and make reliable provisions (Borade & Bansod, 2012).

In such a way, the typical Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is different from the traditional supply chain model, whereby the clients no longer put more pressure on supplier performance for more accurate and faster deliveries, as the Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) enable the vendors to become more responsive in the process of managing the entire replenishment process (Razmi, Hosseini & Sangari, 2010).

Aside from that, it is also typical that the adoption or implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) system or practices is managed or controlled by certain rules and inventory policies – agreed upon by the businesses engage within the cooperative partnership in the supply chain (Hariga, Gumus, Daghfous & Goyal, 2013; Raghunathan & Yeh, 2011).

As such, these distinguishing characteristics of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) made it different from the traditional supply chain management process. These differences are indeed the reasons behind the possibility to Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) approach to create value for a firm or for the entire supply chain. For that, more benefits pertaining to Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) will be further be explained and articulated in the next section.

Benefits of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

It is well acknowledged that the values or benefits from the vendor-managed inventory (VMI) for the supply chain or an organisation are many (Smaros, Lehtonen, Appelqvist & Holmstrom, 2003; Bookbinder, Gümüş & Jewkes, 2010; Kim, 2008; Chen & Federgruen, 2006). A review of the relevant literature had indeed found that the benefits of the vendor-managed inventory (VMI) approach in managing the supply chain are well discussed. For that, not only that the adoption of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) can benefit the various businesses within a supply chain, it will also enhance the competitiveness of the supply chain itself. Some of the benefits discussed by scholars will be presented accordingly under this section.

For example, Borade & Bansod (2012) asserted that some of the benefits of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) include the following: ensure product availability, ensure better services to customers, enhance the competitiveness of a supply chain, reduction of inventory costs for the retailers, the total cost reduction for both vendor and the retailers, the smoothing of order flow from a retailer to a vendor and smoothing of material flow from a vendor to a retailer. Yet, scholars like Çetinkaya & Lee (2000) asserted that some of the benefits of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) include the following: mitigation of the bullwhip effect, prevention of stock out situations, reduction of inventory-carrying costs, enabled optimum replenishment situation and the enhancement towards responsiveness of the supply chain.

Aside from that, Hongjie, Ruxian, Zhigao & Ruijiang (2011) and Mishra & Raghunathan (2004) also discussed that the use of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) system or practices can also enhance the demand visibility (and hence can improve production and inventory control efficiency within a supply chain) of a supply chain even when the demands variation for a product is minimal. In that way, it is also asserted that vendor-managed inventory (VMI) system enabled cost savings for both the suppliers and retailers on the supply chain.

From the discussion presented above, it can be seen that adoption of application of vendor-managed inventory (VMI) system seems to be very useful and potential in contributing to the performance improvement of a firm and the supply chain itself. However, the actual situations in practice are not that straightforward. In the next section, some of the challenges pertaining to vendor-managed inventory (VMI) system in practice will be discussed and explained.

Challenges to Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

Although there are many arguments on how the adoption or application of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) may benefits or offer certain advantages to a firm, it is however crucial to acknowledge about the limitations, challenges or obstacles pertaining to a Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) system. This is because not all cases in reality about adoption or implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) resulted in success or enhancement of firm performance. Indeed, when the implementation process is complicated, the adoption of implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) is more a burden than a contributor to the firm performance (Niranjan, 2011).

It is important also to realise that the value from Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) to a supply chain will be dependent on the various factors related to management of a firm and the supply chain itself. It is possible that adoption of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) will not offer any advantages to a firm. For instance, as discussed in Smaros, Lehtonen, Appelqvist & Holmstrom (2003), it is found that the value of visibility offered by adoption of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) greatly depends on the target products’ replenishment frequencies and the production planning cycle employed by the manufacturer. In other words, under certain condition, the adoption of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) practices may not offer any advantages to a firm. In the following paragraph, some of the issues on limitations, barriers to adoption, obstacles faced or challenges preventing implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) will be discussed.

First of all, Borade & Bansod (2012) discussed that there are few barriers that can prevent a firm from adopting Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) – although the general expectation is that Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) would deliver some significant benefits to the company. These barriers include the following: (i) expensive technology investment required, (ii) the need for personnel training, (iii) lack of mutual trust, (iv) not understandings about Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI), and even (iv) resistance to change.

Yet, another crucial issues that must be dissolve is that although the expectations on adoption of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) can benefit the entire supply chain, the issues on if which party or parties within the supply chain will these benefits accrued to is a sensitive problem (Bookbinder, Gümüş & Jewkes, 2010). To explain, the distribution of benefits may be unequal, and yet the all parties involved or participated in a Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) programmes may be required to invest heavily on the development and eventually refinement of the system itself; which mean the different businesses in the supply chain actually have some expectations or interests from the adoption or applications of the Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) system. The agreement on how those benefits to be reaped by which enterprises particularly can be very sensitive issue to be solved, as certain party may perceive the distribution of the benefits as unequal.

Indeed, as discussed within Li & Zhang (2008), there are also concerns about issues related to confidentiality. Without trusts among the business partners, information sharing is not possible because it benefits the manufacturer but hurts the retailers. Then, even in case that the retailers willing to share internal information on sales and inventory; there will also be concerns about the reliability of the information (Kulp, 2002).

Overall, the discussions presented above can offer some insights on how certain barriers can affect adoption of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) system; such as the following: (i) expensive technology investment required, (ii) the need for personnel training, (iii) lack of mutual trust, (iv) not understandings about Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI), and even (iv) resistance to change. Then, during the implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI); some of the challenges include these: (i) problems related to the reliability of the data provided by clients (i.e., retailers), (ii) issues on the sharing of gains among the suppliers with the retailers, or even (iii) the replenishment frequencies impacts on the Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) system.

Readiness for Adoption of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

Given that the adoption of implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) may be challenging, scholar such as Niranjan (2011) had also suggested some ways to judge if a firm is ready for the adoption of implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). For that, a list of 15 items was included in a questionnaire; whereby these items were measured with a five-point Likert scale response from zero to four (i.e., therefore, the maximum score for the sum of these item is 400). Therefore, the answers to these items can be used to judge if a company should adopt Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) or not. Specifically, any company that had scored more than 300 points or above should had already implemented Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). Then, if the company score around 200 – 300 points, they are considered at the borderline situation; in which the company must give serious thought if to implement Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) or not. Lastly, any company that had scored lower than 200; is argued not to implement Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI), as they are not ready for that. These fifteen items were provided in Table 2 below.

 

Table 2: Items to Access if a Company is ready for Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

Dimensions Items
Company related (company score): 1. Our company revenues have been stable over the years, neither growing nor falling rapidly.

2. Transaction costs pertaining to purchase are high.

3. Information and communication systems are good.

4. The company has no problem sharing inventory/forecast information with the suppliers.

5. Purchasing is a core competence of our organization.

Product related (product score): 6. Products are standardized, and customization is minimal.

7. Products are repetitive with infrequent changes in product specification by customer.

8. Products have standard product identification throughout the supply chain.

9. Demand variance is low.

10. Demand is forecasted and stock levels are monitored closely.

Supplier related (supplier score): 11. High levels of trust and long-term relationships with the suppliers exist.

12. VMI benefits are evident to both our company and our suppliers.

13. Key suppliers constitute a high percentage of purchase orders.

14. Suppliers are willing to cooperate with a VMI initiative.

15. The company’s information system is integrated with the suppliers.

 

Previous Research Related to Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI)

While the studies pertaining to investigation on issues faced by company adopting or implementing Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) are few, some of the previous studies conducted by researchers in the past will be presented. This is to provide more information to better understand about issues related to empirical evidences available pertaining to the research on Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). For that purpose, some of the studies conducted by other scholars will be presented according in the following paragraphs.

First of all, there are studies on examining the benefits offered by Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). For example, Bichescu & Fry (2009), it is found that Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) can result in considerable supply chain savings over traditional supply chain model. Then, in Razmi, Hosseini & Sangari (2010), it is found that the Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) system works better and delivers lower cost in all conditions; as compared to the outcomes from traditional supply chain models. Aside from that, in the research performed by Yu, Yan & Cheng (2002), it is also found that increasing information sharing among the members in a decentralized supply chain will lead to Pareto improvement in the performance of the entire chain – which supports the benefits of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) approach in managing inventory. Indeed, other studies also yielded the same results, whereby Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI) able to contribute to both satisfactory service level and cost performance; such as in: Cheung & Lee (2002) and Fransoo, Wouters & Kok (2001).

Then, there are also some studies on challenges faced by firms during the implementation of Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). In Kulp (2002), some of the challenges that may affect the implementation of Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) system in a supply chain are related to the willingness to share information from retailers to the manufacturer. Then, in the study carried out by Elvander (2007), it is also found that there are many different types of vendor managed inventory (VMI) systems. It is asserted that the practicality of such findings is that Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) systems come in various shapes and setups, which mean that the challenges related to their operation and management may differ significantly.

Yet, there are also some studies on issues affecting the adoption of Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) system in organisations. In research carried out by Dong, Xu & Dresner (2007), the determinants of adoption of Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) system were investigated. From the study, it is found that variables such as “competitiveness of the supplier’s market” and “buyer–supplier cooperation” are positively associated with VMI adoption, while “operational uncertainty for the buyer” is negatively associated with VMI adoption. Yet, in the study conducted by Borade & Bansod (2012), the variables that are important for Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) system adoption were investigated. From the study, it is found that issues such as objectives of adoption, strategic drivers of adoption, obstacles for adoption, and affected operational areas can all affect Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) adoption process within a firm.

Then, there was also a study concern about Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) system adoption and implementation in a company dealing with fast deteriorating or fast perishing goods and materials. There are indeed some studies being conducted in this area. For example, Yu, Wang & Liang (2012) had attempted to develop a model to simulate about the impacts of deterioration of products on total costs within a supply chain.  Then, in a similar manner, Yu, Huang, Hong & Zhang (2011) as well as Chen (2013) had also conduct some mathematical simulation to investigate about impacts of deteriorating foods on the supply chain efficiencies.

 

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