Fast fashion puts pressure on all retailers: Here’s how to keep pace

By Peter Charness, Senior Vice President at TXT Retail, an Aptos Company

Digital connections continue to transform the way people think and shop. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than the rise of “fast fashion.” By definition, fast fashion involves the shortening of product lifecycles driven by the expectation of consumers that they can “see it, have it and wear it” all within a time frame that is the confluence of giving in to impulse, short attention spans and the desire for instant gratification.  

The rise of smartphones, live-streaming of fashion shows and social media mean that customers now have access to the latest trends within minutes of seeing them on the catwalk, worn by a celebrity or shared online for the first time, driving near-instantaneous demand. The elapsed time from the catwalk to the closet is shrinking at a rate that just a few years ago would have been considered a pipe dream by the manufacturer, and is now a dream come true for the shopper.

A recent example of this is, of course, anything worn by the Duchess of Sussex, who sets off a flurry of demand whenever she is photographed. Recently,

fashion label Goat’s website crashed mere minutes after the Duchess of Sussex was pictured wearing one of its dresses. Last December, a handbag she carried by Scottish label Strathberry sold out within 11 minutes.

The truth is a relatively simple retail concept of right product, right place, right time has become incredibly complex in response to the “see now/buy now” trend. Truly retail at the speed of light.

Added complexity throughout the retail org

Finance, planning, design, product development, merchandising, buying, sourcing, visual merchandising and other teams, including external suppliers, are all engaged in merchandise lifecycle management (MLM), trying their best to build stellar collections all while shrinking delivery time frames. All parties need to be communicating fluidly to have a chance at meeting modern shoppers’ expectations.

Unfortunately, most of these teams connect slowly and inefficiently, by phone, fax, email and far too many meetings, as they are virtually distanced through the use of disparate systems and disconnected business processes. This makes it cumbersome to collaborate, quickly share ideas and execute with speed and precision, or to keep cool amid pressure to expedite plans and products. Add in the complexity of creating localised or even personalised assortments and creating more seasons and floorsets, and these stakeholders can be brought to the brink of complete overload.

There simply can be no right product in the right place at the right time without the right MLM strategies, accompanied by a finely tuned supply chain, to ensure rapid and flawless execution.

Responding to fast fashion

As digitalisation continues to transform the industry, retailers must adopt a collaborative, relationship-based mindset with suppliers and partners.

By aligning people, processes and technology and fostering improved internal and external collaboration, retailers’ response to fast fashion should include:

  • Creation of plans that work both numerically (from a financial standpoint) and visually (from the design, assortment planning and visual merchandising perspective) 
  • Sharing of information more efficiently across global supply chains 
  • Adoption of new processes to fast-track hot products to market 
  • Managing of product assortment complexity without losing focus and control
  • Establishing and supporting new techniques for optimising inventory distribution for the omni channel paradigm

Additionally, retailers must continue to develop agile supply chains that can respond efficiently to both planned and unplanned product requirements. Through the use of merchandise lifecycle management software that promotes an integrated technology approach, retailers will be better able to understand demand, plan, share and execute more quickly. An end-to-end MLM solution allows retailers to connect multidisciplinary teams, foster a more collaborative work culture and keep product information moving.

Fast fashion affects all retailers

Something important to note is that the pace of fast fashion is not only affecting apparel retailers. The shopper’s expectation for instant gratification is forcing retailers in all sectors to up their game in support of new shopper demands. Retailers – no matter what products they are selling – are now expected to turn stock more frequently, introduce more products each year and provide consumers with a personalised experience, all while supporting an ever-expanding product collection.

All retailers can benefit from the best practices for a fast fashion environment. Shopper behavior and expectations are moving quickly. Can you keep up?

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