Steve Jobs once said, “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” For apparel manufacturers and retailers, no statement could be truer. Consumers want to be able to research merchandise, compare prices and move between purchasing channels seamlessly. Without seamless purchasing experiences, manufacturers lose.
Move with your customers. It sounds easy, but fulfillment can be challenging for many retailers, especially as more brands sell their products online through third-party marketplaces, department stores or specialty boutiques. How can they manage their e-commerce orders without decimating their wholesale orders? To ensure success, they need to makeover their omnichannel fulfillment strategy. Here are tips on how:
1. Maximize sales with automation.
It’s no secret that to increase sales, manufacturers must accurately forecast demand for each channel. Allocation may be a tedious, manual process, yet leveraging an intelligent ERP solution that includes OMS functionality should be a priority. ERP software can automate the allocation process and make intelligent decisions, reducing cost and resources. For example, if a brand has a scheduled flash sale, the solution should prioritize that event over other channels and allocation rules for a specific timeframe to ensure all orders are fulfilled. Apparel manufacturing has long been recognized as labor-intensive, but automation, robotics and actionable intelligence can help banish this stereotype, making fulfillment a reality.
2. Shop for talent.
Having the right talent is essential for a successful omnichannel fulfillment strategy. Identifying needed skill sets and jobs are important for apparel manufacturers and retailers. The influx of next-gen technology in the supply chain requires new skills to operate these solutions successfully. Consider what new jobs are crucial to the organization’s long-term success and train your current employees. In manufacturing, data scientists are in high demand as more brands recognize the need to operationalize big data. For example, data scientists at e-commerce retail sites selling thousands of products will build algorithms and models to determine customers‘ needs and behaviors, helping to detect specifics about their products — e.g., styles, colors and fabrics. This work allows brands to better manage their inventory. The data helps consumers quickly find what they're looking for, while allowing retailers to reliably forecast inventory.
3. Say no to silos.
Silos are a continued challenge to omnichannel success. In today’s competitive landscape, it’s critical to encourage internal collaboration and integration by knocking down information silos. From design to the store, teams must be able to share ideas with manufacturers in real time to allow translating of these concepts to their work. If new designs and production are shared in advance with operations teams, they can plan with the sales channels, optimizing order fulfillment and sales.
4. Ensure that technology is a perfect fit.
When it comes to adopting technology to support omnichannel fulfillment, don’t just buy the latest solution. Manufacturers should identify what works best for their unique needs. When consumers expect fast shipping, wholesale accounts and retail partners require quick packaging and fulfillment of orders. For example, a brand with an East Coast warehouse with a major West Coast partner that's sold through and requires quick fulfillment means transporting product from one coast to the other. That won't work. Instead, the company will need to find a third-party logistics provider, open a small West Coast warehouse or leverage a local store for fulfillment. Brands are unique, depending on their business partners and where the consumer demand is, requiring a best-fit strategy to meet consumer demand.
While speed-to-market is of the essence in revamping a supply chain, strategy and preparation will go a long way. Manufacturers and retailers may be concerned about their ability to seamlessly meet customer demands, but with the right people, processes and technology, they can be successful.
Paul F. Magel is the president of the business applications and technology outsourcing division of CGS, a global provider of business applications.
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