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Placing the global digital customer at the heart of your operations

Date: May 15, 2015

Category: Opinion piece, Industry news


A focus on the efficiency and effectiveness of supply chains continued at the recent Drapers Digital Forum, held on 30 April in London. We attended this key industry event for the first time, as the apparel industry increasingly recognises the need for GS1 standards to be used by both retailers and brands throughout their operations.

Holly Porter, our Chief Marketing Officer, participated in a key session on e-fulfilment: new fulfilment methods to reflect the global digital customer, alongside directors from Jaeger, Lulu Guinness and Jigsaw.

A key theme developed around the flow of information and transparency of information between channels. The panel identified the danger in leaving physical and digital stores in different silos. The retailers agreed that they are seeing a convergence between the two, as stock becomes more centralised, with an expectation of greater agility in the supply chain and availability of information to inform decision making. 

The underlying sentiment from the panel was that customers don’t care whether they are purchasing at home, online, on their mobile or in store – they’re just shopping. The journey for retailers, they agreed, has to be about selling as many full price sales as possible, and that to achieve this, joining the merchandising, buying and fulfilment teams is critical. 

“The global fashion supply chain no longer has a single end point. The consumer wants to be served in store, at home, or on the screen of their chosen device – whether that’s a phone, tablet or computer,” commented Holly.

Richard Gilmore of Jigsaw noted that “once you embrace the supply chain as a whole piece, you get a greater understanding and appreciation, allowing a business to look at everything as a whole.”

Considering the question of technology, Holly pointed towards the availability of stock information as being key to operating in an omnichannel world. “When investing in technology retailers and brand owners have to consider how they will give their customers insight into what stock is available, when and how they can have it. This has to be accurate and achievable; otherwise in the long run it’s your brand reputation that will be damaged.”

A second panel, composed of directors from Monsoon, Accessorize, Schuh, Bodens and Clarks, debated the issue of returns. They agreed that returns are now simply a cost of doing business – placing barriers to prevent customers from returning an item simply reduces the amount of sales a retailer can expect. 

With an overwhelming proportion of returned items in a saleable state, a key question posed by the panel was how to get stock back into the supply chain and ready to be sold. This echoed views recently expressed by John Lewis.  

The apparel industry has recognised that whatever technology is used to meet the challenges of fulfilment and returns, supply chains must be underpinned by a system of unique identification.  This allows fulfilment and returns to be managed in a way that is best suited to the needs of the business and the modern digital consumer. From the foundation of a simple, globally unique GS1 number, retailers can leverage the GS1 System to drive greater efficiency through Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and, as we are increasingly seeing, RFID item level tagging to transform operational practices.

Read more about the role of GS1 standards in apparel.