How technology can adapt to shifting consumer needs with centralised data

By Centric Software. 

The way consumers behave has shifted almost beyond recognition – and there are indications that the change could be permanent. Companies which were already operating on a technology-first basis have been able to adapt and thrive over the last year, while others are still playing catch-up and some have unfortunately not survived the transition – as evidenced by Debenhams and the Arcadia Group.

Integrating technology into the way you do business has long been a must in fashion – customers want convenience and businesses want efficiency. But now more than ever it’s critical to place technology and actionable data at the heart of your operation, driving agility, growth and further innovation in a way that genuinely reflects the needs of your customers. This will provide a roadmap for the changes and challenges of the foreseeable future, long after the pandemic.

Fast changes in the fashion industry

Many of us have discovered that the new ways of working we hurriedly adopted in response to Covid-19 are much more efficient than what we were doing before. This in itself is a reason to fast-track the adoption of the latest technologies, but there are plenty of other reasons too. 

Consumers hold the fashion industry, and their chosen brands, to different standards compared to just a few years ago. Sustainability is now nearing the top of the agenda for both companies and the people who buy from them:

  • Almost half (48%) of young people (18-23) surveyed by McKinsey stated that they intend to buy more second-hand fashion items in the wake of the pandemic. 
  • People care where their fashion is coming from like never before, and companies’ attitudes towards sourcing standards are shifting in response – 56% of companies cite transparency in sustainability as the most important area for adjustment
  • 55% of fashion companies aim to source at least half of their products from sustainable materials by 2025.

According to Business of Fashion, online shopping across the global fashion industry saw the equivalent of six years’ growth during just eight months in 2020. This pace of change is showing no sign of slowing, and in order to navigate the road ahead fashion retail companies need to be doing much more than replicating their stores online. Using data and customer insight to inform every aspect of your process to create a personalised and flexible online experience should be your priority over the coming years.

Fashion PLM experts at Centric Software reveal steps that fashion producers and retailers can take to future proof your business to changing consumer needs:

Demonstrate sourcing standards to create consumer trust

Research carried out on behalf of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) shows that customers increasingly see sourcing standards and transparency as key motivators in their purchasing decisions. A 500% increase in sustainable fashion products being launched in the two years to 2019 indicates just how rapidly this shift is taking place. More is expected of your company than ever before, and so being able to evidence your sourcing is a big part of consumer trust.

Global private label fashion manufacturer, DZ Group, identified the ability to centralise information as a key way to enable growth. Doing so would enable the company to understand and utilise all of their resources across offices in different time zones. In collecting centralised and internally-visible data throughout the product journey they were able to improve communication, reduce response time to customers, speed time to market and give full visibility of the supply chain.

Being able to efficiently track source materials right from tree to production can help you to pinpoint this evidence. Supply chains are often complex with many moving parts, and improving sustainability means being able to identify inefficiencies along the line. If you can compare data from different supply chains and sourcing techniques, this can help you build a genuinely sustainable approach, which will also bolster your company’s reputation.

Delivery pressures: data helps identify cracks in customer service

With online sales having grown by 36% during 2020 (the highest single-year growth since 2007), pressure upon delivery providers is mounting. There are opportunities to optimize and streamline your process at every step from factory to front door, and with competition for optimized delivery times ever more fierce, now is the time for innovation driven by data and insights.

One inefficient delivery can lose your company a customer forever. With online reviews now such an important measure of trust, research shows that more than half (55%) of customer complaints were attributed to issues with the post-purchase experience (the period between clicking to buy and receiving the product through the door). In addition, 40% of one-star reviews mentioned delivery. Customers in these circumstances will, by and large, migrate to competitors with better delivery systems in place.

Brand-first models are reacting to changes and refusing to outsource

The rapidly shifting commercial landscape is enabling companies with established brand recognition to make their entire process internally controlled, including delivery. One globally reaching example of this is Nike pulling its products from Amazon in 2019, and Adidas is showing signs of moving towards a similar self-sustaining model.

Digitally native brand AMARO has pioneered an e-commerce direct-to-consumer business model that minimises waste. It does this by ‘co-authoring’ product lines with customers, reacting to data on consumer desires rather than pushing trends on them and integrating this data throughout the supply chain. Data controlled entirely by the brand has allowed it to benefit from this ‘co-authoring’ process, staying close to a new digitally-native shopping generation while cutting the waste and cost of unsold products sitting in storage.

Brand-first models not only provide product flexibility, but also gives full control over e-commerce platforms, meaning the effective use of the data gathered throughout the product cycle is crucial in optimizing products towards consumers’ needs.

Data gives decision makers the power to change

With the need to adapt more urgent than ever, how prepared do you feel for the future? Many companies have failed to adapt to e-commerce models and have learned too late, especially in the last year, that this was a make-or-break moment. End-to-end product data used in the right way empowers you to make informed decisions, eradicating guesswork and offering unbeatable insight into how you should address your customers’ shifting demands.

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