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INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

  • 16 Apr

How can IT help fashion retail meet its challenges

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Nigel Illingworth

Whilst retail in general is bearing the brunt of the downturn, fashion is feeling more pain than most. How can IT help fashion retail? Here, Retail Assist’s Product Director, Nigel Illingworth, describes ways in which fashion retailers are using technology to turn themselves into smarter businesses

Whilst the world of fashion retailing is not alone in needing to adapt to a tough trading climate, it suffers more than most from external conditions. These include the demands of multiple season stockholding, complex supply chains, competition from cheaper markets, and fickle customers with less disposable income for discretionary purchases. We’ve seen these elements influence the way in which fashion retailers behave towards their IT suppliers and use IT.

In the past, inhouse teams would be expected to evolve a 5-year or even 10-year IT plan, which brought together commercial vision and IT investment. Today, it’s short-term tactics and results that count, as retailers focus on 6-24 month developments that can make tangible improvements.

When it comes to supplier relationships:

  • Under-performing systems are no longer tolerated and retailers look to squeeze greater efficiencies from an existing core system
  • Gone are the days when a systems change meant a long process, starting with an ITT. Today, pressured retailers want rapid results: a better system or a better deal from their suppliers
  • Suppliers are expected to come up with flexible working and licensing models
  • Large-scale capital outlays have disappeared, as leasing, rental and SaaS options become the norm
  • Timescales have been squeezed. Lengthy implementations with long workshop programmes don’t get signed off
  • Packaged solutions have ousted bespoke developments. The former approach puts the main elements in place, with minor customisation cost-efficient and often be done by users

In terms of how IT is used today, the focus is on “quick win”, justifiable changes that are easy to see, save money, and enhance processes, customer service and stock management. Increasingly, retailers use software solutions as the agent for improvement.

The customer experience:

  • Whilst many brands boast about store ordering, their processes are often cumbersome. The best amongst them use their supply chain software to create a swift and slick process, whereby items can be sent for home delivery or store pickup
  • Linkage and loyalty come from connecting with customers in new ways, such as via mobile phones, SMS texting and e-magazines. All can build brand loyalty and demonstrate customer care
  • IT solutions are helping fashion retailers to learn a lesson from their supermarket peers and improve flexible pricing and promotion.

Stock availability:

  • Inter-branch transfers done manually are labour-intensive and prone to inaccuracy. Today’s IT systems look for overstocked or wrongly-stocked stores and suggest moves. This rebalancing of in-store stock means sales opportunities aren’t lost
  • It’s especially important in fashion to phase stock deliveries. Having stock arriving ad hoc has cost and space implications and negatively affects cash flow. Better inwards tracking and control makes a real difference. Whilst this is often done manually on paper or spreadsheets, savvy businesses use their supply chain solution to give them control and a holistic view
  • It’s important to impose consistent standards for the whole business to use. Staff must be trained to understand and follow processes for replenishment. Here, IT can provide the backbone and prompt staff to take necessary actions.

Efficiency and cost:

In boom times, it was easy to ignore ways in which economies and efficiencies could be achieved. Now, there’s no choice. A number of practical remedies are being put in place thanks to technology.

  • Automated carton merging identifies “fresh air” in cartons, enabling warehoused items to be moved from one carton to another to fill up space. This saves cost where carriers charge delivery per carton
  • Tough trading conditions have called for better processes in franchise management. In the past, critical data would be transmitted spreadsheet (products from the supplier, sales from the partners). Standardisation across multiple partners was rare and processes were inefficient. Today’s software solutions eliminate manual processes and set standards that save labour and hassle
  • Using IT to automatically generate purchase orders for continuity items which you and your customers assume will be always be available means you should never run out of stock. Systemised processes look at sales trends and stocking levels then automatically generate orders for manual approval
  • System-driven pre-allocation of stock to stores enables retailers to smooth out workloads and use staff more effectively and economically. Before stock arrives, you tell the system how you’d like it to be allocated. Not only is the workload better spread and stock better distributed but also those critical processes, which you struggled to put in place, don’t get jettisoned due to pressure of work.

Armed with software systems that are functionally-rich, resilient and adaptable to individual requirements, fashion retailers are fighting the battle and winning.

For more information call 0115 8533910 or email info@retail-assist.co.uk

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