In today's age of instant gratification, shoppers want everything right now. Major brands, including Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and H&M, are all jumping on the "see now, wear now" train, offering their collections to the public immediately after they appear on the runway.
This revolution is due in part to the demands of younger consumers, but the change also helps address problems with seasonal clothing. Shoppers no longer have to wait months to buy a piece that might soon be out of season.
Getting new products to customers faster might sound like a difficult task. But if you're a retailer struggling to increase your speed to market, there are a few strategies that can help you satisfy your audience’s desires:
1. Spot trends while they're still trendy.
Consumer demands are constantly changing, and to keep up with them, you need to constantly analyze your consumer data to pick up on shifts in preferences and new trends.
Recently, apparel retailer Zara recognized that its customers wanted sustainable merchandise made from high-quality materials. To meet this new trend, the brand launched its "Join Life" line of sustainable garments, which offers products made from recycled and organic materials at the same low price point Zara's customers expect.
You can spot similar trends in several places. Look for shifts in sales across your existing assortment and stores to find hits and misses. Track common themes in customer feedback to identify where products fall short of or exceed expectations. Listen closely on social media to pick up on new trends as they pop up.
2. Make buying decisions faster.
Now more than ever it's important to share information about new products to make buying decisions quickly. Implement collaboration between your internal teams and with external parties to facilitate communication and speedy decisions. Turning to a digital platform is a smart strategy to smooth out your operation.
Having an effective, flexible collaboration tool lets buyers share product information with others across your organization as they collect it at trade shows, on buying trips, or in vendor showrooms. Speeding up the buying decision means getting products to your customers faster.
3. Start with clean product data.
Product buyers are constantly searching for new goods to purchase, and it’s important that they capture information about potential purchases early. Onboarding new products can be challenging based on the amount of data required for each product. Missing and incorrect product information leads to poor customer experiences.
It’s important to have controls in place to validate values and control the types of values that can be entered for each product attribute. A product information management solution provides such controls and will work for the information inputted by your internal teams, as well as product information provided through supplier catalogs. Ensuring you have clean product data will reduce time spent fixing data errors and will deliver the best customer experience.
4. Have a clear, automated workflow.
Automated workflows and collaboration are key steps for getting products to market fast. Look for a solution that enables teams to seamlessly hand off products along the onboarding process and provides visibility into the complete product creation process so teams know what's headed their way. Your workflow solution also needs to support collaboration so teams can quickly distribute important updates and flag issues when they occur.
When you collaborate effectively, you'll see a vast improvement in your time to market. Take retailer Marks & Spencer, for example. The company has increased its speed of product conception to stocking shelves from 15 months to just five months.
5. Evolve and improve.
Even after you've gotten your tools up and running, it's important to keep looking for areas in which you can improve. When you're looking for areas to improve your platform, be sure to track metrics that are important to your business. Make some small changes and then measure their impact.
If someone runs into an obstacle, chances are he'll get frustrated and either slow the entire process down or even abandon the technology altogether. But if you continue to improve the interface and workflow, your company and external parties will likely increase their use of your platform.
The retail industry is changing quickly. Customers are demanding quicker turnaround times — they don't want to wait months to buy the clothes they see on the runway. This is a big change for many brands, but with the right tools and collaboration, you'll be ahead of the curve and ready for this new challenge.
Abnesh Raina is the CEO and founder of PlumSlice Labs, which provides a suite of web and mobile apps to help retailers stock and sell products more economically, creatively and efficiently. Raina has led the development of innovative multichannel technology solutions throughout his 20-year career. Prior to founding PlumSlice Labs, he held executive positions with Restoration Hardware, B/E Aerospace and AMS (acquired by Baker & Taylor).