Speed-to-Market Fulfillment and the Omnichannel Fast Fashion Retail Industry

Fast Fashion Disrupts the Traditional Retail Industry Business Model

What is Fast Fashion Retail?

If you are not a style maven given to wearing trendy styles, you may be unaware of one of the most dominating trends in the retail supply chain industry.  What is “fast fashion”?  Sometimes referred to as “fashion on-demand”, the term “fast fashion” refers to apparel and home goods manufacturers that have agility-oriented, vertical supply chains geared for speed-to-market.  Fast fashion companies change out their collections at a faster rate as compared to that of similar companies that rely on traditional business models.  These fashion companies are not satisfied with working on a 2-3 season per year calendar and instead, operate on a 12+ annual season calendar.  Originally impacting the apparel industry, the fast fashion model is now being used in furniture, home goods and luxury products as well.  Yes, the model of fast fashion is dominant, truly Boss of the retail market.

Fast Fashion vs. Traditional Retail

When it comes to consumers, fast fashion is winning the price war.

One of the primary advantages for retailers is more than price however.  It is the immediacy of the design and style changes, the quick turnaround of trendy, fashionable garments, accessories, shoes and other goods at a fraction of the cost of that found in traditional retail stores.

Providing consumers with a nearly continuous supply of new styles and trendy goods in only limited amounts helps keep customers coming back to retailers, over and over again.

Fast Fashion Retail Disrupts Apparel Retail and Traditional Supply Chains

Surveys of retailers have demonstrated that speed-to-market is now the foremost market pressure dominating retailers.  The need for lightning-fast lead times is forcing a re-orientation in the entire traditional retail business model.  Social media has served to light a fire under retailers.  From the power of fashion influencers and celebrities on social media sites to online sharing by consumers, apparel and lifestyle fashion brands are continually trying to outdo each other.  Because consumers in certain groups tend to be trend-oriented, goods are time-sensitive, necessitating a fast-paced approach and product delivery model.

Inspired from a variety of sources including the street, fast fashion goods are produced quickly and pushed onto store shelves immediately.  This fast-paced fashion seasonal calendar means that goods are not available in retail stores for long periods of time.  To accommodate such an accelerated schedule, distribution, order fulfillment and warehouse operations must also adapt.  Speed-to-market is the essence of introducing and selling fast fashion goods, whether online or in retail stores.  To be successful, fast fashion necessitates that orders are expedited to rush goods to store shelves and/or to online buyers.  For fast fashion, it’s all about speed, speed, speed.

For the fast fashion business model to work, it requires a shortened supply chain and direct control over critical elements including raw material supply, design, production and logistics.  This vertically integrated supply chain structure results in quick turnaround time, greater flexibility, quality assurance, visibility and process control and results in less supply chain risk.  Owning the retail stores also helps streamline getting fast fashion goods into stores and enables the operators to connect directly with in-store consumers.  This is especially key when determining the market and demand for trendy goods.

At a time when traditional retail is struggling, and shopping malls are closing, is fast fashion the answer?  In a word, yes.  Fast fashion is designed to optimize sales, help generate traffic into retail stores and online shopping carts and increase profit margins.  Traditional retail is still finding its footing, competing against online retailers and the new normal of pricing for younger consumers.  Another benefit of fast fashion is that it is bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.  The apparel industry reshoring trend is largely due to the need to source and produce goods close to consumers.  This trend is being seen across the globe and is being done to meet the needs of consumers around the world, i.e. European fast fashion companies are producing goods close to European consumers, etc.  With the time and cost of shipping goods across the world, it simply is not advantageous to keep production so far from consumers when speed-to-market is so critical.

Luxury fast fashion brands use speed to their utmost advantage. Immediate fashion calendars push the boundaries of speed-to-market to reap the maximum benefits from the “see-now-buy-now” approach.  Is this being done exclusively to capture the eye of fickle fashion consumers?  Probably not.  The fast-paced approach has other advantages as well.  Getting goods to market faster then off the shelves helps to push consumers into stores both on and offline to make purchases before the inventory sells out or becomes unavailable.

Fast Fashion Goods Win Over Consumers with Speed-to-Market, Trendy Goods & Low Prices

Fast fashion brands tend to focus intently on consumer tastes and buying preferences and work ahead of rather than merely in step with industry fashion trends.  This can be especially problematic when dealing with Millennials as this consumer group is known to be less loyal to brands and unwilling to pay higher prices for goods.  Consumers that are less brand-centric, such as Millennials make the task of forecasting much more difficult.  This can result in waste or shortage, both threats to a fast fashion company.  Because we live in the age of social media, consumers frequently vent their frustrations online, or conversely, promote their love of products.  This can result in a stampede of orders or shelves piled high with inventory, depending upon the situation.

Part of the key to a successful fast fashion strategy is not just speed-to-market but cultivating connections to consumers and digesting customer data expeditiously.  Across the crowded luxury market, brands continually seek closer connections with consumers through channels within their internal control.  This helps provide the data they need to make better informed decisions as a faster pace.

The fast fashion has caused disruption and change in the apparel industry and has required restructuring of supply chain strategy and investment in technology for operators.  Partially driven by the need to capture and retain consumers’ interest, fast fashion operates at breakneck speed.  To be successful, fast fashion apparel manufacturers require distribution channels which service both brick and mortar retailers as well as the Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) models.  The balance between online and brick and mortar retailer orders fluctuates, making it essential that distribution centers can effectively “go with the flow” and meet volume requirements seamlessly.

One of the most significant challenges with fast fashion is SKU proliferation and the pace at which inventory is brought in and churned out of retail stores.  Most retail outlets will not carry all styles, sizes and colors of garments.  It is typical to have higher volume of smaller-sized orders combined with the need for high frequency deliveries.  In addition, fast fashion often receives significant numbers of e-commerce orders to be picked up at store locations, a high rate of returns and enormous seasonal peaks for Back-to-School, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The fast fashion industry typically requires a high level of service as well as technology systems and 3rd party providers that are highly flexible to meet the dynamic changes in buying and return conditions.   Due to the extreme conditions involved with fast fashion, there frequently are short lead times, late-cutoffs for same or next day delivery windows.

Introducing modularity as part of an ongoing strategy in optimizing order fulfillment can be useful.  This can enable distribution centers and 3PL warehouses to reduce lead times and risk and speed start up if used.

 

How Does Fast Fashion Work?

The digital revolution has enabled the fashion design to hasten the pace of fashion design.  Today fashion can be inspired or copied from runways or style influencers and on shelves in mere weeks.  Fashion houses can use information on current, emerging and anticipated trends and styles simply by checking social media sites or by following fashion mavens who are popular style influencers online and on social media.

Not enough to be fast, now there are “ultrafast” fashion retailers that specialize in operating highly agile supply chains to match the supply of inventory with dynamically changing demand.  Fashion houses make initial designs in small batches.  These are used to test response and demand.  If found to be successful, these goods are produced and offered quickly to take advantage of consumer interest.  Sourcing businesses are associated with the supply chain operation.  They focus on selling the fashion goods at full prices and reduced markdowns.  As compared to traditional retailers, fast fashion retailers have much lower markdown levels.

 

Conclusion

Fast fashion is one of the new retail business models and is having a major impact on retail.  The fashion on-demand business model relies on vertical integration of the supply chain as well as keeping sourcing and manufacturing close to the target market of consumers.  Using this model requires more technology and enables designers to get goods into stores rapidly.  Smaller batches of goods are produced, and trendy goods are supplied more frequently.  This helps to generate more in-store retail traffic and sales and reduces the need for discounting.

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