I had an interesting conversation recently with a retail consultant specializing in business transformation. We discussed logistics and the steps retailers take to track and trace a garment from the factory through to the hands of the consumer. He mentioned how the 16 seasons (also known as “fast fashion”) model in the fashion industry can make it particularly challenging. As a consumer, I found this to be a mindboggling concept – especially when you consider the more conventional fashion-retail model of changing collections 2–4 times per year. It must be a constant chess game for today’s retailer to adapt to new trends, all while considering factors like forecasting, production planning, logistics, in store layout and capacity. The end goal would be to produce an attractive, unique product in a highly competitive industry.
Let’s start with the why
Gone is the two-season shopping calendar. The need for speed to satisfy the consumer’s desire for trendier, unique, and, most of all, low prices has taken over. One of my retail colleagues described fast fashion as, “a model used to represent low-cost, high-margin, high-turn merchandise, usually for teen and young adult specialty stores.” Fast-fashion firms are specialty apparel retailers with brick-and-mortar stores and some online presence. Second, they are not “haute couture” or trend-setters, but rather fashion followers that target the mid-to-low price range for ages 3–40.
Production planning and forecasting

Another retail consultant mentioned that new collection comes out every four weeks, all while planning and ordering at least 12–18 months ahead. For some retailers, a two-year window is needed. Having the ability to analyze business trends regularly to plan and take action will allow for a flexible response to customer needs and the retail market. Tommy Hilfiger knows this balancing act all too well.

Supply chain

Today’s retailer needs to take this complex model and make it simpler, yet faster, than the competition. Transporting a garment from a factory in Thailand to the hands of a teen consumer in Delaware is no easy task. Supply chain insight is key.  Retailers need insight into their supply chains, knowledge and expertise into international trade regulations, maximize the appropriate transportation channels and finally, have a well planned strategy for store layout and display. Another retail colleague indicated that today’s retailer needs to reduce complexity, decrease costs, and gain fingertip access to critical business insight. By tracking inventory from factory to point of sale with a microprocessor-based tagging system, Zara hopes to speed its supply chain, improve customer service, and increase security.

Store layout

Retailers need to consider the following factors and plan accordingly – store layout, just-enough space, and where to display. As one retailer suggested, the purchasing decisions of a consumer can be greatly impacted by the store layout and design.

So, next time I am in H&M, I’ll take special note of that trendy jacket in the store window. I now have a better appreciation of all that it entails to get this article of clothing from the designer’s sketch pad to the window display. I’ll also know there’s a good chance it might be making its way to the back to the store in a matter of only a few weeks to make room for the next trend or wave.

As a marketer supporting the retail industry for the SAP Services organization, I have the opportunity to speak regularly with retail experts from one of the largest retail consulting practices in the world. These invaluable discussions yield a great deal of information on current and future trends in the retail industry, personal perspectives, best practices and more. Follow my series, where I’ll share these insights over the coming weeks!

SAP Services for retail has more than 500 dedicated practitioners in the retail and AFS space. More than 12,209 retailers in 114 countries are innovating with SAP solutions. To learn more about how SAP can help you transform and optimize your business, visit SAP Services for Retail.
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