Paul Rogers asks if fashion businesses can rely on their back office functions to support their increasingly slick online shop fronts
The recent vote by UK MPs supporting the move to strip Sir Philip Green of his knighthood sounded the final death knell for former high street giant, BHS. While the true scale of his role in the demise of BHS is still to be defined, the number of factors that led to the chain’s collapse are well documented, including the now infamous pensions burden, a lack of brand clarity and an overall failure to maintain relevancy by not adapting to meet changing customer demands.
This need to satisfy and even exceed customer expectations is vital for any fashion business hoping to survive in today’s ever-competitive and super-fast market. And top of the list of must-haves is the provision of a relevant online offering.
In order to boost their online presence and increase their overall brand awareness, many fashion businesses are employing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to ensure maximum online outreach, proactively drawing customers in to their digital shopfronts. The first step in the customer journey is no longer dependent on the customer coming to you, with SEO taking it one step further back into the decision-making process, perhaps even creating a need that wasn’t there to begin with.
That’s not to say that SEO is the panacea for the fashion industry. It’s all very well to perfect your digital footprint and online shop front and translate this into increased sales, but if your back office technology is struggling to keep up with the resulting demand, any SEO efforts are in vain. With the fast fashion business model particularly reliant on maximum levels of business agility, clunky, disparate back-end systems simply won’t do, particularly if they are the weakest digital link in a slick, effective customer-facing online presence.
The need to embrace a multi-channel retail model, managing multiple vendors, factories and customer contracts, means that timely, efficient decision-making is critical if fashion businesses are to keep pace with customer demand and competitors. What’s required is a total view of the business at all times, with the ability to automatically drill down into departmental and process-specific data every step of the way. The functionality to effectively manage your designs, stock levels and sales is of vital importance. There is little point driving more digital traffic for your brand if you still lack insight into stock and order information. You will not make a good first impression if you cannot fulfil a customer order because your software didn’t accurately reflect stock levels.
It’s only with integrated, end-to-end systems in place - software which seamlessly integrates front and back office functions - that the necessary business oversight is guaranteed. The comprehensive information this new generation of systems provides enables the application of rigorous analytics throughout the business, by combining PLM, ERP and finance. This makes it easier to identify process improvements, seeking out new opportunities and perhaps most importantly, identifying customer trends quickly and efficiently. The senior team then have a solid platform from which to make robust, effective and timely decisions, achieving the levels of business agility that can mean the difference between success or failure in a highly competitive and increasingly fast-paced fashion world.
Fashion businesses are often restrained by their systems, with inflexible back office technology affording limited visibility of the business as a whole. Digitalisation is now supporting the entire customer lifecycle, infiltrating all areas of a fashion business from SEO through to supply chain. To truly make a difference to the business, systems need to be joined up, from start to finish.
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