Hand to mouth: Stock flow and fast fashion

Fast fashion retailers need to be just that, fast. Consumer loyalty towards brands in this area is driven by customers being able to buy and return items when they want them, how they want them and where they want them. While this flexibility is great for the shopper, it can be a nightmare for the retailer. The cost of surplus goods in the wrong place can be detrimental to the margins, especially if it results in a scandal surrounding stock removal.

So how can these most reactive of retailers make their inventory spend add up? David Griffiths, Senior Product Marketing and Strategy Manager, Adjuno, discusses.

The Face Behind Fast Fashion

Fast fashion isn’t a new problem, but it is an evolving one. The 60s were a fashion landmark, and the first hint of the way in which fast fashion would change retail. Iconic models such as Twiggy, and the increase of economic wealth, helped to drive the demand for more affordable, trend driven clothing, and today’s drivers aren’t too different.

The rise of social media influencers, brand ambassadors and the abandonment of seasonal launches for a ‘see now buy now’ fashion retail model has fuelled the fire of fast fashion. These variables can be highly unpredictable, with retailers frantically competing to stock the latest trend craze or product merchandise. These variables can also cause huge problems when it comes to stock flow.

Stock Flow Management

Poor stock flow management can have a huge impact on a brand’s reputation. The conversation around the issues of surplus stock hit an all-time high last year, when it was discovered that some luxury brands had been burning their items in order to avoid discounting stock to protect their brand reputation. It’s not just surplus stock that can risk a reputation however, not having enough stock is also an issue. Having products online that are constantly out of stock, or not having items in-store, is a sure fire way to encourage consumers to shop elsewhere.

To manage stock flow effectively, retailers need to be able to more accurately assess their inventory. This requires total visibility throughout the supply chain. Using supply chain technology, it is possible for retailers to gain a detailed, real-time view of the total inventory, including items held in-store, in distribution centres (DCs), in transit and on order, enabling better decisions to be made about any potential under or over-stocks. To avoid empty shelves or stock overflow it’s important that retailers take advantage of the insights available to them and become more proactive in regards to stock flow management.

Retailers should be pinpointing their under-stocks, and re-routing or expediting in-transit items to prioritise them for delivery to DCs. Time is of the essence when it comes to bolstering low stocks, especially if consumers are flocking towards a certain item for weather dependent or trend driven reasons.

Over-stocks present a different problem. Aside from the cost of storage, what’s on the shelf or in DCs is set which means retailers need to push back handover dates, change deliveries to a lower priority or even sometimes cancel orders entirely. This can be disruptive for suppliers and warehouse staff so it’s vital that the entire supply chain has visibility and notification of these changes in order to maintain good supplier relationships and use space effectively. Additionally, by taking this approach the need to discount products should be reduced and brand reputation and consumer relationships safeguarded.

Conclusion

Fast fashion presents some serious stock flow management challenges for retailers. To meet the consumer demand and protect their brand, retailers need to create more transparency, both internally and externally, throughout their supply chain. Stock flow can be managed, even with the unpredictable variables of influencer marketing, instant cult trends and weather dependent purchases, but it requires all buyer, supplier, distributor and warehouse team activity to be visible.

The impact of the conscious consumer is increasingly becoming felt by retailers, and burning surplus stock, or using air freight to ship products quickly will not sit well with customers. Stock management is a growing concern for both retailers and consumers, but if it’s managed correctly retailers can get the margins they need, instil consumer trust and put themselves ahead of the competition.

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