Staying alive in the Fashion Industry has always been tough. It is one of the most competitive environments in commerce. The apparel companies and designers who once thrived did so by having vison. They knew what their customers wanted, even before they knew what they wanted.
In the past, intuition, business judgment, and vision successfully introduced the newest fashion trends to the runway, and then to the market. Victory in Fashion was once an art. Visionary designers led the way into the latest trends and fads as if only they possessed crystal balls. What they produced sold, and fast. The good news, and the bad news, is that victory in Fashion is no longer just an art. It is also a science. In fact, merging the two is now necessary for survival in the Fashion Industry today.
Today, prospering Fashion companies must have two things: Vision and Real-Time Information. Creativity is still a must, but apparel companies must also know exactly what is happening, at all times, from design, to manufacturing, to fulfillment. Where is the inventory, how much of it is on the shelves at this very moment, when is it moving and to where? What garments in particular are customers buying, and in which sizes and colors? There is no time for mistakes. The apparel companies that have this real-time information are constantly taking design concepts to consumers faster and faster, and perhaps most importantly, they are profiting by most accurately predicting demand and fulfilling it. They are leaving little room for their competition to bear the cost of waste, obsolete inventory, chargebacks, and even Fashion prediction and guesswork.
Apparel companies and designers without Real-Time information have no choice but to implement new technology or to upgrade their legacy systems. In short, this is now a world that responds immediately to consumer demand rather than first predicting what consumer demand will be. This is now a world where to stay alive, one must live in harmony with the tech giants. It is arguable that Amazon alone has created an environment in which Fashion companies have no choice but to deliver what the customer wants to the customer’s door, preferably not tomorrow, but yesterday. The only way to do this is through turning a lot of data (Big Data) into real-time information.
The available technology choices for success are arguably many, but still there are a number of things an Apparel company must have in place to best convert real-time information into cost-effectiveness and a profitable bottom line. A few of these are:
1. Accurate real-time supply and demand prediction. What is happening with product and materials, right now? In today’s climate, with such short inventory cycles, there needs to be complete visibility into the supply chain. With the right system in place, an apparel company can predict future consumer demand by using technology that allows immediate visibility into materials, inventory and product flow. For example, with the right system in place, a manager can see what the consumer or retailer is buying today and then make relevant purchasing decisions in real time. Without the right system in place, procurement and fulfillment becomes guesswork. Buying decisions are verified long after the fact, sometimes months later when the old legacy system reports are finally produced and delivered by the accounting department.
2. Real-time purchasing decisions. When real-time purchasing decisions can be made, apparel companies minimize the cost of materials, an expense which is nearly always the greatest burden to managing cash flow. With real-time purchasing at one’s fingertips, via a vendor portal system or module, vendors submit bids or quotes in a matter of minutes. There is no wait time. The best prices are known and acted upon without any guesswork. For many companies, success is found in a real-time competitive bidding environment that only the right technology can provide. Real-time bidding competition often gets the best materials pricing.
3. Predictive analytics and Business Intelligence (BI). It should be highlighted that just having real-time data, or the information derived from it, does not currently provide the most competitive and leading edge real-time information. The best technology in the market now not only provides visibility into real-time information, but also turns this information into graphs, data-charts, and predictive analytics. In other words, the best BI tools visually (in a snapshot) show exactly where inventory movement is lagging and where warehouse shelves are being depleted. They show in pictures exactly how much of every item, and in which geographies, materials and inventory are moving from the shelves, to the retailer, and ultimately into the hands of the consumer.
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