With the goal of helping the industry better understand itself and combine forces toward a better future, a cowritten report called “2021 AlixPartners + Sourcing Journal’s Fashion in Focus: Investing in a future forged by adversity,” analyzes survey responses from apparel and footwear industry executives that asked how their businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and what changes they have made to mitigate disruption.
While the industry is still experiencing ongoing challenges, the companies’ survey responses and supplemental executive interviews showed that there is progress being made for the industry to equip itself for years ahead. The survey covered four different areas: assortment planning, omnichannel evolution, supply chain complexity and agility.
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According to survey findings “apparel executives understand that learning and improving as they go is key to agility.”
With a large area of stress for the industry being unpredictable forecasts associated with rapidly changing demand, data collection and analysis became necessary in new ways during the pandemic as companies looked to make quick decisions. Ultimately, industry executives reported that the changing demand and consumer behavior impacted the brand-supplier relationship.
The survey found that as firms use technology to ease collaboration and guide business decisions, 23 percent of respondents said they’re looking to adopt technology that enables better collaboration and 69 percent said they have improved cross-functional collaboration and speed by breaking down silos. At the same time, 67 percent of respondents said they have prioritized platforms that offer a single source of truth.
And as companies have updated practices over the pandemic — leaving outdated and inefficient processes behind — authors of the report said they can focus on challenges including freight delays that disrupt the usual timelines for transporting materials.
However, the report clarified that the majority of companies are still “playing catch up” when it comes to visibility solutions. Meaning while some are implementing technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence and supply chain control towers, many or most are working on upgrading ERP and PLM systems.
“The workarounds and the manual work required if you don’t have effective infrastructure and systems in place has become more prevalent,” said Chris Considine, AlixPartners director. “Many are reacting to try and improve that now.”
Still, this push for more and better data, authors of the report said, “could lead to stronger channels of communication between manufactures and brands and to retailers sharing week-on-week rather than month-on-month, forecast adjustments with suppliers.” To that end, 74 percent of respondents said they believe data-driven decisions support their ability to turn test and learn findings into concrete improvements in customer experience, engagement and conversion.
However, “being data-rich and data-driven aren’t the same,” said the authors of the report. As brands and retailers continue to learn the value of consumer insights data, many have struggled to accurately gather, measure and act on the data. Moving forward and out of the survivalist mode that the pandemic has thrust onto so many businesses, the goal is to translate these learnings into lasting procedures. Ultimately, keeping up with consumers’ wants and needs will require team effort in the industry.
For supplier relationships, executives shared they are looking for partners that bring more acumen alongside the technical ability they provide.
“In order to weather future storms sure to come,” said authors of the report, “companies must establish backup plans and flexibility within their supply chains, reconsider their organizational and team structures and regain sight of sustainability in order to prioritize survival.”