Since I was a child I am interested in fashion, so everything related to it attracts my attention. I like to read articles and try to follow this topic. I understand that the path of a product from factory to store can be a highly complex process but nowadays technology and data are playing an increasingly important role in helping companies synchronise their supply chains.
Today the final leg of the journey (transporting a product from factory to store) is more important than ever, it’s not just about tracking physical garments as they make their way to retail but tracking and harnessing the data associated with these garments.
For large brands, it is more common to rent space in a warehouse, where items are shipped in from factories by air, truck or boat and then “picked and packed.” In the “pick and pack” process, workers unload the goods, identify each garment by barcode, determine the retailer for which it is destined and repack the piece to be sent out. In the years since the ‘Great Recession,’ larger retailers have begun charging fashion labels fees if their garments are not packaged exactly as requested, so brands must make sure their warehouse follows procedure.
From the moment product hits a warehouse, it must be out the door as soon as possible. The earlier it gets in the store, the longer the selling period will be. Any delays caused by logistics can disrupt the entire season!!
There are a lot of technological innovations that help companies to facilitate and optimize their processes. For example, ‘Quiet Logistics’ is one firm aiming to streamline the process, utilising Kiva robots to efficiently pick and pack products for clients including fast-fashion chains and fashion e-commerce start-ups.
In many cases, third-party retailers own the relationship with the consumer and the data generated by these interactions is critical to brands. Currently, many designers receive this kind of feedback from retailers via email, phone or semi-automated technology systems. But with the implementation of tracking technology, such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, product data can be fed directly into a designer’s own business management software. Major companies like Walmart have been using RFID tags for more than a decade, Bloomingdale’s began embedding the tags in garments about five years ago and more and more retailers are following suit.
Emerging ready-to-wear brands can’t typically afford to add their own tracking tags to garments but department stores that do use such devices are often able to report back on customer behaviour, which, in turn, helps to inform late-season orders. For example, if a retailer is unexpectedly selling out of a sweater style, the RFID tag will report that information directly to a brand’s business management software. The system instantly registers this and advises the brand to order more of the sweater from its suppliers. And if sweaters are an unexpectedly big category for a designer in a particular season, he or she may decide to offer more options the next time around, potentially changing the course of the brand.
For brands with sizable e-commerce businesses, tracking tags and business management software like Zedonk also help to fulfil orders across channels, by facilitating services like the in-store pickup. And as more brands start keeping less inventory on the floor, this kind of tracking allows shop clerks to be able to quickly identify what is available online — or in another physical store location — in a more seamless fashion. Brands including Burberry and Matches already employ iPads in store to help customers shop for items that may not be available in a particular store.
New technology is also helping brands glean insights into consumer behaviour by monitoring how they interact with products on the shop floor. Indeed, high fashion labels may set sartorial trends, but it is major retailers that are driving the growth of data collection around product inventory.