March 07, 2017

7 Technology Trends Transforming the Fashion Supply Chain Process

To stay ahead of the curve in today’s fast-changing retail landscape, apparel companies need to understand which emerging technologies currently are shaping apparel companies’ supply chain operations.

Here are 7 trends your company should know that are transforming the fashion supply chain for 2017:

1. An Automated Supply Chain

Web-enabled technologies and data-driven software solutions provide the sort of insight that enable business leaders to make smarter decisions surrounding their day-to-day operations.

Automating your supply chain operations has become a must for tracking, reporting, while increasing efficiency and bottom line. One need only look at Apparel’s annual Top Innovators Awards, replete with stories and anecdotes of successful firms that have dropped manual spreadsheets for ERP systems to understand why automation and data integration are the way to go.

And let’s not forget about increased customer demand: Brands are now expected to respond to changes in orders within 24 hours - or risk cancellation, because customers now presume that every retail operation has systems are in place to execute modifications at the press of a button.

2. Wearable Technology

Innovative new technologies that can improve the efficiency of your operations-- like smart glasses and watches - rapidly are being incorporated into warehouses and distribution centers. Not only does this “cool” wearable technology enhance in-house communications amongst staff, but also, it makes rapid real-time data-sharing possible via voice command systems and instant photo capture.

For example, employees using smart glasses will use a digital picking list with an accompanying map of the quickest route through the warehouse for increased efficiency and speed. Also, staff are not tied to their computer terminals since management can transmit instructions to employees wherever they’re located.

Smart watches have similar capabilities and provide a platform for rapid communication in distribution centers, as employees need only glance at their wrists to check emails and texts.

Inarguably, wearable technology is fast becoming the most “suited and befitting” way to fulfill urgent, same-day orders, while increasing employee efficiency and communication.

Fashion, Supply chain process, Technology trends, Smart watches

3. Artificial Intelligence

Today’s apparel companies need solutions that align demand with product distribution, reducing profit-eroding markdowns, while also provide data on the emerging fashion trends that will propel them first to market.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) already is providing this solution by improving efficiency in warehouse operations and product design. Artificial Intelligence utilizes deep learning to analyze enormous amounts of data extracted from social media and the web to provide critical insights that increases the production resources dedicated to successful products.

AI also analyzes sales to determine which products are popular and which are sluggish. Utilizing technology that increases your ratio of hits to misses by better allocating resources to leading products should be the goal of every apparel company seeking to maximize its profits. 

4. An Agile Supply Chain Methodology

The agile methodology applied to the supply chain means building in flexibility and utilizing interactivity to better respond to changes and disruptions. In fact, an agile supply chain can mean the difference between delighting or disappointing your customer.

Whether it’s a sharp increase in the cost of materials or unexpected interruptions in factory production, an agile supply chain ensures that a company will have solutions immediately available to avoid potentially catastrophic delays in production. Interactivity means making critical business connections to resolve difficult issues that could have a direct impact on profits.

Apparel companies are now redesigning their supply chains to better leverage inventory by adding new local distribution centers and growing their physical resources to achieve greater agility in meeting customer demand.

5. Connecting with Millennials Through Your PLM

Millennials derive a sense of meaning from helping others. They are trend-spotters, social media news-watchers and tend to have a progressive outlook on life; consequently, they favor brands whose values mirror their own.

The availability of real-time information at their fingertips also has created for millennials an expectation of corporate transparency in those industries where they spend their money.

For this reason, millennials demand to know where and how a product was made. Not only that, they pay attention to how workers in the supply chain are treated. Apparel companies can address this need amongst millennials for equity and transparency through their Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and supply chain systems.

If your goal is to project a Millennial-friendly brand image, take a review of your company’s PLM and supply chain to make sure your ethical scorecard is not one that needs improvement; or find ways to increase your ethical profile overall.

Fashion, Supply chain process, Technology trends, PLM

6. Enhancing Capabilities with the Cloud

As the Baby Boomer generation gradually ages out of the workforce; losing institutional knowledge becomes a growing concern.  Cloud systems enable employees to document and share critical information, preserving invaluable expertise held by key staff and reducing the effects of turnover on the enterprise.

But there are numerous other benefits of Cloud services for apparel, including:

  • Improved collaboration with suppliers
  • Condensed administrative functions
  • Reduced goods costs
  • Increased profitability

Cloud-based technology solutions trim infrastructure outlays and can equip smaller organizations with the capabilities of larger enterprises at a significant cost savings. With fewer resources consumed by time-intensive tasks, improved workflow will add value to your operations across the board.

7. Choosing the Right Procurement Tools

As technology accelerates, business units are shrinking and lead times to manufacture merchandise are growing briefer. Now more than ever, the choices a company makes around its procurement system-- or electronic data interchange solution-- will speak volumes about its efficiency, speed and profits.

Purchasing managers need the right procurement tools. By choosing the right software solution, managers can:

  • Enhance collaboration;
  • Streamline operations;
  • Avoid profit-crushing out-of-stocks with quick access to historical trends and current data; and
  • Efficiently manage cash flow using real-time access to invoice statuses by implementing an intelligent procurement operation

As departments downsize, customer demands grow, commodities tighten and prices rise, companies can strategize to mitigate these and other risks through an efficient and effective data management solution. The procurement function continues to rise to great prominence in a highly competitive global environment.

Going Forward

Going forward, an organization’s success will depend on how well it knows the emerging trends and how equipped it is with the technology, tools and innovations to propel it to the forefront.

For many companies, CGS’s BlueCherry Enterprise Suite allows brands to streamline its operations, extract more detailed information, track and manage big data to maximize productivity and profitability.

While adopting new technologies can seem daunting, taking your organization out of its comfort zone can revitalize your brand and create exciting opportunities for gaining greater market share and skyrocketing your sales.