by Lindsey McGee | January 12, 2021
When attendees were handed masks during Paris Fashion Week this March, they likely had no idea they were holding 2020’s most important piece of apparel. The news of COVID-19 was ramping up, and the industry was already falling behind thanks to the one-two-punch of Chinese New Year and subsequent lockdowns — but many fashion brands hoped the supply chain disruption was a temporary blip.
It wasn’t. Between shutdowns across Europe and the US that closed retail stores, shipping freezes and massive stockouts, the fashion industry may have now seen its hardest year yet. Reopening economies and a massive surge in e-commerce shopping have helped some brands recuperate, but the latest reports from McKinsey & Company still predict a global industry contraction of 27-30% in 2020.
So, what can fashion brands do to find success in a post-COVID economy? Among the many recommendations are supplier diversification efforts (which will reduce reliance on Chinese textiles), investments in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-driven forecasting strategies, and expansion into digital commerce channels. But for many businesses, a big piece of the solution lies in using connected technology to simplify complex supply chains.
Many apparel brands use several different platforms for different channels and processes, from e-commerce portals to Order Management, Warehouse Management, and Inventory Management Systems. Additionally, they might work with dozens if not hundreds of retail customers, textile suppliers, and shipping carriers. Without connectivity, fashion brands have to move information from external channels to internal ones, then between internal systems, and then back out to trading partners by hand.
This creates multiple problems that inhibit success. First, manually moving all that data is expensive, and requires significant internal resources. Second, manual entry creates delays, which can be an issue especially when working with customers who often require Purchase Order acknowledgements, Advanced Shipping Notices, and deliveries within tight timeframes. What’s more, important details like inventory availability and shipment updates are always a step behind, which makes it impossible to see product movements in real time. Finally, a disconnected supply chain is an inaccurate supply chain, riddled with errors that chip away at already razor-thin profit margins, while injuring a brand’s reputation with both retailers and consumers.
In today’s economy, accurate, real-time data is essential given unpredictable demand swings, changes in channels and continuous disruptions to suppliers and carriers. To stay ahead, companies need to study their supply chain processes, from procurement to shipping, and leverage the power of integrated solutions to create a more simple, visible supply chain.
The zipper is commonly known as one of the most significant inventions in fashion history. Replacing the need for buttons alone, zippers were faster, easier, and more convenient to use. Plus, they offered greater protection from the weather, giving wearers a wind, dust, and waterproof way to go out.
Integrated electronic data interchange, or EDI, has had a comparable impact on supply chains. EDI is a type of software that accepts incoming data, translates it to match internal system needs, and then delivers it. EDI can take unstructured data, emails, and even PDFs and convert them to a meet your ERP system’s needs for rapid processing. Like the zipper, EDI brings together disparate pieces of the supply chain ensemble more quickly and easily than older, disjointed solutions. Also like the zipper, EDI offers enhanced protection for your business; not only does it ensure data accuracy, but thanks to advanced data encryption, it also secures your data against outside elements.
Integrated EDI offers several additional benefits, including:
Near-real time data updates. Because EDI is automated, data can be received and processed extremely quickly, enabling businesses to understand the current state of product activities, and respond quickly to incoming orders and trading partner communications.
Lower costs. One zipper does the work of dozens of buttons; so too does EDI replace the need for hundreds of hours of manual typing. This means you can reallocate internal resources to work on higher priorities that benefit your business’s long-term growth.
Unlike manual efforts, EDI solutions, especially cloud-based EDI solutions, are designed to easily handle both steady sales growth and sudden order increases, without causing delays.
Unified commerce solutions build on the powerful foundation of EDI to further reduce supply chain complexity for fashion brands. These holistic systems bring together multiple platforms into a single hub, regardless of the format of incoming data. Unified commerce solutions deliver enterprise-wide transparency and real-time data while eliminating the need to manage multiple user portals, and often also reducing the number of vendors that brands need to juggle.
For example, a robust Unified Omni platform will enable you to access in-store and digital commerce channels, make updates to enterprise-wide product information, receive multi-platform orders, send them to your ERP for processing, and let you manage optimized fulfillment from a single user interface.
Furthermore, because unified commerce brings supply chain processes under one roof and syncs data across many platforms, they provide a single version of enterprise truths, which businesses can use to make strategic decisions. Trade Management Systems with a centralized communication platform take this even further by making it easy for users and global trading partners to see real-time updates, ask questions and exchange documents in one place.
When you combine these benefits with the accessibility of cloud-based solutions, unified commerce enables today’s fashion businesses to operate more efficiently, no matter where their trading partners — or employees — are based.
One Jesta customer that is experiencing the power of a connected supply chain is western-wear apparel brand, Cavender’s. By pairing integrated EDI from TrueCommerce with the powerful Jesta Vision Suite platform, Cavender’s was quickly able to simplify their operations while strengthening their business.
Larry Waterman, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Cavender’s, underscored the importance of collaboration across the supply chain. Thanks to integrated EDI, Mr. Waterman commented, “We’re now able to provide [our largest vendors] with analytics that support their production and distribution planning and ultimately help ensure we have the right products in the right place at the right time.”
At the same time, the company has seen significant internal improvements in efficiency. “We are now able to automate the longstanding manual process of matching up our POs, packing slips and invoices,” said Mr. Waterman. That translates to fewer errors, a faster order-to-cash cycle, and the ability to reallocate team members to important, customer-facing roles.
Mr. Waterman sees ongoing omnichannel expansion in Cavender’s future: “We’ve been omnichannel since before omnichannel was a hot topic,” touts Mr. Waterman. “For example, we’ve been fulfilling online orders from our stores since we first launched our website. We also do a lot of distribution directly from vendors into our stores. Our new capabilities are already helping us drive inventory efficiencies.”
Disjointed supply chains have played a large role in the apparel industry’s 2020 struggles, but in doing so, they’ve highlighted what fashion companies need to do to regain and keep a competitive edge. By integrating omnichannel operations and consolidating internal systems, unified commerce will give fashion brands the support they need to not only recover from COVID impacts, but the visibility and functionality they need to stay agile in future markets.
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