Everywhere we turn there are proclamations of retail doom, high street downfall and talk that things have never been so tough. But turning the tables, could this be a great opportunity for fashion retailers to shine?

The competitive landscape is tough; the high street is full of retailers vying for a share of customers’ purses, there is pressure on costs, with raw material prices impacting intake margins, and profit margins are under pressure with growing online sales driving higher and higher levels of returns. However, never before have customers been so engaged with the act of shopping. For fashion retailers who are able to harness that interest and fully understand what their customers really value, the opportunities to profit are great.

Looking at the rise of online young fashion brands like Missguided, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing, they have emerged from virtually nowhere to challenge the high street fashion stalwarts. These brands have successfully tapped into demand for ‘fashion now’ clothing and ensured that their supply chains and sourcing bases are equipped to deliver the short lead time, fast turn-around trends that stimulate customer interest.

Elsewhere, some of the more traditional retailers are leveraging data to integrate customer and product performance analytics, allowing them to align what they range, how much they buy, and how they manage allocations and replenishment, reducing their markdowns and realising maximum return on inventory.

Whether it is speed to market, customer lifestyle alignment, revolving newness, online front-end user experience, or the integration of physical to bring the brand to life – disruptors are rethinking the rules of the game.

Those brands who are successful in realising these opportunities all have one thing in common; transformation. No longer is it about single, or even omni-channel integration, instead it is about a retailer’s ability to master unified commerce and seamless delivery of whatever customers want, however they want to access it.

Key to this successful transformation process is fashion retailers tapping into the rich customer and sales data available to them and converting it into actionable insight. Marketing, buying, merchandising, operations, and customer services should all work together like never before to create a 360-degree view of the customer and their unique requirements.

Rethinking the use of physical store footprint allows retailers to showcase their brand in a new light, thinking afresh about how product is allocated and making the former offline (stores) online and a truly connected part of the chain.

Fashion retailers who manage to tailor what they present to customers will see success through the incorporation of customer and product sales data.

How can retailers achieve this?

  • Create a dialogue with your customer – everywhere and anywhere that they interact with you
  • Cross functional integration – sharing data and insights (operations, buying & merchandising, and marketing) and combining data sources allows retailers to not only understand what the best-selling products are, but who is buying them, how often and what else they have in their basket. It also allows an understanding of what marketing those customers are most receptive to, and through which channel they are most likely to purchase (the role of prescriptive and predictive analytics over and above BI) – combined, this is extremely powerful
  • Process reengineering – challenging legacy ways of working, and not being afraid to take a fresh look at ‘the way things are done around here’
  • Exploring system opportunities – there are many new modular, more agile systemic solutions that can be explored
  • Making data visualisation accessible to the decision makers – data is only meaningful if it can be turned into actionable insight, otherwise it is just ‘big data’
  • Integrating the use of data insight into every day operating processes – avoid data and analytics for data and analytics sake, instead embed it into day to day decision making routines
  • Changing KPIs - drive a change in behaviour at the core

 What are the pitfalls to avoid?

  • Not talking to your customer (a recent BearingPoint survey established that only 38% of retailers spoke to real customers about the products and services they wanted)
  • Range proliferation without having inventory management processes in place to manage the full end-to-end product lifecycle
  • Silo’d data that isn’t cross functionally integrated
  • Short term focus on margin creation
  • Endless bolt-ons to legacy systems

Fashion retail is undeniably a challenging market place right now, but the opportunities are great for those who take a fresh ‘customer focused’ view of their operating model. As we move through 2019 we’ll see that retailers who create highly personalised customer experiences, delivered through sophisticated supply chain operations, flourish. We’ll continue to see the emergence of new approaches to analytics as data plays a critical role in unifying range curation with customer needs and the most appropriate marketing activity. We’ll see the emergence of new disruptors and inevitably some retail casualties but never has fashion retail been such an exciting and innovation-rich industry segment in which to operate!

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