IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

  • 10 Jun 2013

The Importance and Challenges of Integrated Communication

This week’s blog post was contributed by Hannah Tulley, a recent Retail Buying graduate from De Montfort University. In June Hannah is starting her career as a Garment Technologist for a UK based fashion supplier. As part of her contract she will be spending 3 months in Hong Kong and 3 in Bangladesh. This piece is based on her latest research.

Effective communication is of paramount importance in any industry to ensure efficiency, and fashion is no exception. Complex consumers make for complex retailers and an intricate supply chain. With endless styles and options, and advancing technology, the consumer demand is increasing in speed and the retailers and suppliers have to work hard to satisfy it. To add to the usual pressures of cost and time ethical and environmental impacts must also be considered – making the whole process a challenge to manage effectively.

As other industries have grown, technological advancements have been utilised to streamline the processes and allow for easier management, however the world of fashion seemed to miss the memo. Research carried out with UK based fashion suppliers showed that a large proportion actually had no form of software solution in place to aid with management of the critical path. The majority of those that did have one in place did not find it effective and still manually updated spread-sheets and self-generated reports. These methods, whilst previously effective, are incredibly time consuming and involve duplication and therefore a high potential for human error. The retailers did all have computer systems but some were very dated, not providing real time data which is essential in such a fast paced environment.

A different person is responsible for the management of each stage throughout the critical path of a fashion product. Dependent on the product or the retailer there can often be multiple people involved from different parties at each step. Due to this it is important that all information is centrally stored with access permissions for those who require to either input, view and/or extract data effectively rather than copying it from varying sources. Regardless of whether a retailer considers themselves multi-channel, omni-channel or ‘big data’ a centralised system is beneficial for managing their supply base and delivering effectively to the consumers. A system like Retail Assist’s multichannel supply chain Merret can facilitate easy tracking of products through a single stock pool regardless of their location, using the latest cloud platforms to provide real-time data to both the retailers and the end consumers. This can result in incredibly fast delivery from warehouses or stores. To accompany this it can compile accurate analysis of the best and worst sellers to aid buying teams with forecasting decisions. Other programmes on the market from the likes of Gerber and Lectra can integrate their popular CAD and CAM programmes to aid smooth running of the earlier stages of the critical path. The more information that can be shared centrally in one location, the smaller the margin for error becomes and the less time and therefore money is wasted.

The key challenge with becoming centrally integrated in the fashion industry is the diversity and quantity of the parties involved. Each retailer sources from a range of both direct and indirect suppliers, and in turn each supplier provides for a different range of retailers… So if they aren’t all on the same system it can never run completely seamlessly. One of the most important factors is trust both internally and externally which can be hard to do in a competitive industry. In Canada they have an organisation called the Textiles Human Resource Council (THRC) where fashion and textile retailers and suppliers share information on how they function and manage their production as well as ethical and environmental policies. I don’t quite think all of the industry is ready for this but it is an interesting concept to make the most of what options are available to optimise productivity and maximise profit whilst still providing the customers with the best service.

With advances in communication through the likes of social media and the availability of travel, fashion is getting faster by the minute…the big question is can the industry keep up? If it communicates effectively and centrally then yes it should be able to!

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