As economies begin to open and we stop and start our way into the ‘new normal,’ the on-the-ground reality looks much more ‘new’ than a return to anything that came before. Digital first is here to stay: consumers, brands, and buyers who have experienced the convenience and cost reduction of doing business online won’t dial that back anytime soon.
Of necessity, inventory will become more nimble. As the economy recovers, competition will increase--and the resulting Darwinian environment will leave little leeway for inefficiencies.
This new chapter is decidedly different, but also full of opportunities for those who can adapt quickly. Here’s three ways technology can support a smooth transition to the new business landscape, and support continued growth:
1. Meet with partners virtually
Virtual showrooms have gained traction in recent months as a safe alternative to fashion weeks, showrooms, markets, and live meetings; they’ll stay around for the long-term because they offer a highly engaging and cost effective way for brands and buyers to do business. Just like traditional events, virtual showrooms can help manufacturers build brand recognition, make connections and take orders--but without the hefty expenses of travel, shows and/or showrooming. When done right, virtual showrooms can even break the ‘digital touch/feel barrier,’ using rich technologies like zoom in, video and 360° spins to let merchandisers experience the products close up and in motion--thereby increasing their buying confidence. Of course, in-person meetings and collaborations have their own unique benefits. But the future of market and trade shows will leverage the best of both digital and live interaction to develop the most effective and efficient model, not return to what existed prior. And, in contrast to market and other scheduled events, virtual showrooms can give partners a rich buying and selling opportunity 365 days a year.
2. Manage inventory transparently
The industry’s long-term prioritization of cost over speed and flexibility has led to our current inventory problem.The issue far predates the health crisis, but lockdown brick and mortar closures and the forecasted decrease in consumer spending have now made it untenable. Technology can alleviate immediate pressures and aftershocks during the period of rebound, as well as help with solutions to ‘right-size’ inventory for the longer term.
The pandemic has demonstrated how a global crisis can hit brands with both shipment delays and order cancellations--leaving them between a rock and a hard place. Technology can provide the transparency to repurpose excess inventory and help avoid losses--even in highly challenging environments.
Digitization of a wholesale business can also help to align merchandise planning with future demand. The consolidation of data can provide insight into intelligence needed for demand forecasting--such as order histories with drill-down capabilities into date range, geography, style, quantity, color and more. In addition, a date-driven real-time view of inventory supports transition to a more resilient and responsive supply chain. Brands can leverage it to avoid prioritizing low production cost as their lead KPI, and instead transition to more agile near-shore manufacturing solutions with shorter lead times. Optimizing inventory in this way--at a time when most still fail to do so and rely on markdowns--can lead to a competitive edge.
3. Save time with automated processes, provide personalized service to partners
The automation and scaling of labor-intensive tasks like custom line sheet creation, appointment scheduling, report creation and more creates bandwidth for brands to support partners in more visible and impactful ways. When brands bring such formerly manual processes online, they can focus on collaborating with individual partners and providing more strategic and individualized feedback and service to improve buys and support mutual success.
Digital first’ is here to stay. Brands that embrace the agility and transparency technology can bring will find stable footing in a volatile landscape, and discover ways to pull ahead.
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