Written by
David Koke
Senior Marketing Manager

Beacon’s supply chain visibility and collaboration platform empowers organizations to achieve more efficient, reliable and sustainable supply chains.

In this article

June 3, 2024

8 confusing terms in supply chain management

A good understanding of supply chain terminology is an essential skill for supply chain and logistics professionals. But in a profession dominated by abbreviations and jargon, it can be difficult to master the language of supply chain management. 

We polled supply chain managers to get their take on some of the most confusing terms in SCM, and here’s what they said...

Bullwhip Effect

The bullwhip effect refers to the phenomenon where small fluctuations in demand at the retail level cause increasingly larger fluctuations in demand at the wholesale, distributor, manufacturer, and raw material supplier levels. This can lead to inefficiencies, such as overstock or stockouts, throughout the supply chain.

Reverse Logistics

Reverse logistics involves the process of moving goods from their final destination back to the manufacturer or retailer for return, repair, remanufacture, or recycling. This aspect of logistics is often overlooked but is crucial for sustainability and customer satisfaction.

Supply Chain Visibility

Supply chain visibility refers to the ability to track and trace the entire lifecycle of products as they move through the supply chain. Achieving full visibility is often difficult due to the complexity and scale of global supply chains.

3PL (Third-Party Logistics)

A 3PL provider offers outsourced logistics services, which can encompass anything that involves management of one or more facets of procurement and fulfillment activities. This term can be confusing because it encompasses a wide range of services, from transportation to warehousing and distribution.

4PL (Fourth-Party Logistics)

While 3PLs manage logistics operations, 4PLs manage the entire supply chain process. A 4PL acts as a single point of contact between the business and all its supply chain partners, offering a higher level of strategic insight and management.

Lead Time

Lead time is the total time it takes for an order to be fulfilled, from the moment a purchase order is placed until the delivery is received. This includes processing, manufacturing, and shipping times. Specific parts of the journey may also have their own lead times that collectively form the total lead time. Misunderstanding lead times can lead to inventory shortages or excess.

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)

ERP is a type of software that organizations use to manage day-to-day business activities. An ERP system integrates various functions, including supply chain operations, demand planning and finance, to provide a unified view of business processes. The breadth and complexity of ERP systems like SAP and Oracle often lead to confusion and a bad user experience.

Consignment Inventory

Consignment inventory refers to goods that are stored at the buyer's location but remain the property of the supplier until they are used or sold. This can be confusing because the inventory is physically with the buyer but financially with the supplier.

Keep brushing up on your supply chain vocabulary with our Supply Chain Glossary.