With all the shifting variables in play, the fact that goods arrive where and when they’re supposed to is something of a miracle. From weather delays to human error in the warehouse, there are hundreds of problems just waiting to slow down the supply chain. It’s a testament to the warehouse management and logistical skills of thousands of people working together that the wheels don’t constantly fall off. But sometimes they do, and it can be spectacularly bad.

The words Broken Promise on chain links breaking apart to symbol

1.) The iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 was one of the most anticipated new products of 2012. On release day, they had 5 million devices ready, but the demand was much, much higher, leaving some customers waiting for weeks as their phones were assembled and shipped.

Some analysts chalked up this mismatched production to some secret, genius marketing strategy cooked up by Apple, but it’s much more likely that it’s a result of Apple’s famed perfectionism. Each iteration of the iPhone has sold out more quickly than the last, and with each new iPhone the supply chain has become increasingly complex. This leaves Apple customers holding the bag (while standing in line).

2.) GM Goes Nuts For Robots. In the 1980s, GM’s chairman Roger Smith was major technology enthusiast. Smith thought that robots and automation were the future of manufacturing, a vision that couldn’t be realized by 1980s robotics technology. He plowed billions of dollars into robotics projects, building 300 robots and making plans to implement 14,000 more into GM factories with the help of Japanese robot maker Fujitsu-Fanuc. While his commitment to technology was admirable, the results were not so good, and GM’s warehouse management experts were baffled. The robots never really worked correctly – imagine this, but across an entire production floor.


According to employees on the scene, the robots painted themselves, shattered windshields, and generally did everything but what they were designed to do.

3.) Adidas’ Warehouse Implosion. Adidas’ supply chain problems began in 1993 when they tried to implement new warehouse management software at their Spartanburg, South Carolina distribution warehouse. Trouble started when adidas asked their warehouse management software provider to port their UNIX software to the non-compatible adidas computers.

The first vendor went out of business before implementation for unrelated reasons, and when the job was passed to a second company, they also failed to complete the project. Frustrated by delays, adidas decided to take their exceedingly complex distribution center live before the systems were ready. You can guess what happened next.

The system didn’t work and they were unable to process orders. In January of 1996 (when the distribution center went live), adidas was only able to complete 20% of the orders they received, leading to major financial losses and mass defection from the IT staff.

4.) Toys “R” Us Ruins Christmas. Toys “R” Us was looking forward to a big Christmas in 1999 — eCommerce was finally taking root and the company expected a flood of holiday orders. Looking to take full advantage of the new online shopping craze, they promised customers that any orders made on or before December 10 would arrive by Christmas. As they would soon learn, it was a promise they couldn’t keep.

As thousands and thousands of orders rolled in, warehouse management experts within the company realized that it would be mathematically impossible to pick, pack, and ship all the items before the Christmas deadline. Two days before Christmas, they sent out an ill-fated apology email. While other companies were experiencing eCommerce growing pains, the email made Toys “R” Us the focus for stories about shipping delays in the media, and their brand was tarnished for years. After the debacle, they handed over fulfillment to logistics masters Amazon.com.

If you’ve ever had a supply chain meltdown like adidas or Toys “R” Us, get back on the right track with help from Apparel Business Systems. Our warehouse management software is purpose-built to help apparel businesses optimize their supply chain and avoid costly mistakes, and our expert consultants will help you analyse your systems and root out any lurking problems that could slow you down. Contact us today for more information.