Fast fashion items have a shelf life of as little as 15 days. That’s about how long it can take businesses to list new products online. This fast pace isn’t just a fad; this is a logical evolution of the fashion industry. All parts of commerce and ecommerce are seeing a push for quicker manufacturing and shorter time to market, and fashion (including luxury fashion) is no exception. In fact, one study from McKinsey had an interesting finding on what successful fashion companies are doing differently.
“Top performers make speed to market a top priority and get faster and faster.” McKinsey, *The need for speed: capturing today’s fashion consumer, 2018*
It’s no secret that merchandise is moving quickly. However, each of these fast-moving products must also be digitized. New and updated fashion product catalogs must be distributed to marketing, sales, and business channels. This begs the question: if fashion companies need to be agile, why are so many still using the same product catalog management methods that were instituted years ago? This is only leading to missed opportunities, an increased risk of error, and a tendency to fall short on digital transformation efforts.
How are some businesses able to move quickly while others are not? Moreover, how will businesses get ahead in the future?
The cost of slow-moving legacy processes
Does this sound familiar? It’s time to introduce a new collection. Someone, perhaps a member of IT or an intern, must be drafted to manually enter or cleanse the new product catalog information. To do so, this person is likely using Excel sheets and personally entering, reading, and rereading thousands of individual data points, line-by-line. This catalog information is the basis of all online marketing and sales efforts that come thereafter.
In fact, a fashion product catalog is used to:
- List products on shopping sites, marketplaces, comparison sites, and more channels
- Support marketing and retargeting campaigns on sites like Facebook or Google
- Add product information to nurturing emails and campaigns
- Inform customers across every touch point
So, if this information is so important, why are we allowing it to be managed manually? Let’s take a look at just how many tiny inconsistencies and errors can occur in just a few attributes.
As the example above shows, there are almost countless ways to fill in product attributes. Even if the information is not explicitly “incorrect,” each product should list information in the same, consistent format.
That means, someone must manually go in and standardize titles, remove unnecessary uppercase letters, shorten descriptions to the appropriate length, and so (so) much more. This process is so intensive that it’s expected to take several days or weeks.
Importantly, while digitally native companies and agile new fashion startups can capitalize on new technologies and get to market fast, businesses with a long history of manual processes and Excel spreadsheets are struggling.
From seasonality to mobility: key areas where legacy processes undermine sales efforts
Fashion businesses, like many others in commerce and ecommerce, are struggling to differentiate their shopping experience. They need beautiful sites, pages, and apps; they need to personalize everything and add cutting edge technology wherever possible. Plus, they need to keep up with competitors who do move at lightning speed. Brand and retailer loyalty doesn’t hold much weight these days, and it’s time for businesses to take a more rigorous approach to digital transformation in order to build a great, and fully modern, online shopping experience.
Topics like machine learning or augmented reality make for interesting reads and conversations. While there’s no doubt such buzzword-topics are affecting the fashion industry, product catalog management is a much more pressing matter. Poor product data agility is what holds businesses back from expansion and automating old processes. It’s an obstacle for modernizing basic ecommerce needs.
Here are some of the absolutely critical areas where legacy processes are holding fashion companies back.
Expansion to new markets
The fashion market currently has a lower barrier to entry than ever before. This allows businesses small and large, old and new, ranging from corporations to artisans to dropshippers to get their products online fast. While consumers are expected to continue spending millions of dollars on fashion products around the globe, markets are also becoming increasingly saturated. Especially in the US and in the west, competition is fierce.
However, there are countless new markets waiting to be explored. For example, 75% of all luxury good sales will come from Chinese consumers by 2020. Getting to new markets—and completely owning them—is the only way for businesses today to keep sales up tomorrow and beyond. In order to make this expansion possible, product catalogs must be quickly localized and then distributed to each target channel. This means product information must always be completely agile and up-to-date.
Enabling shoppers to be fully mobile
Where do you shop? Your favorite retailer’s site, Amazon, maybe even Google. Maybe this is on desktop. Perhaps you prefer mobile. Most likely, it’s a combination of all of the above (and more). The average consumer expects shopping mobility. Tie them down to one channel or just one option and they may close that window and never look back. Always assume that shoppers expect both mobile and app-based experiences. They want completely up-to-date information and offers across every channel they may access.
Much like the need to reach new markets, a huge part of reaching mobile and apps is product catalog agility. Without complete control of the product catalog, there’s no way for a business to quickly move product information or optimize it for different situations and channels.
Offering personalized selections
“Complete the look…” “Customers also like…” These little suggestions aren’t just good for getting products in front of the shopper; they’re good for helping shoppers find what they’re really looking for. Smart, personalized selections are key for online brands and retailers who want to keep shoppers engaged, clicking, and adding products to their cart.
AI and machine learning are certainly helpful in determining which products seem to pair well with one another. However, the next step is ensuring all that great research can actually be used. Tools like Custom labels can help by making it easy for businesses to assign specific labels to products. In order to dynamically add products easily, you'll also want perfectly accurate and complete product catalogs.
Keeping up with seasonal changes and opportunities
Chances are, if you’re a brand or retailer, you have hundreds to thousands of SKUs to manage at any given point in time. At the same time, shoppers’ wants and needs are constantly changing. They change with the season, trends, and times. Businesses need to take care of the obvious needs—like listing ski jackets in winter and sandals in summer—as well as take advantage of smaller moments such as special items for Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl, or graduation season.
Custom labels, the product_type category, or others, again, can help segment products based on the business’s particular needs. Perhaps more importantly, strong product feed management methods made it much easier to add and optimize products overall. That means getting specific products to market or updating them for specific seasons is much more manageable and reliable.
Minimizing returns and cart abandonment
It’s not uncommon for some businesses to have a 30% return rate on products in certain fashion categories. Many shoppers now consider returning products just “part of the experience.” In relation to growing returns, one top retail advisor has even said, “we’ve created a monster.” In many ways, this can seem like an unbeatable problem. However, unsatisfactory product information is one of the leading causes of returned products and abandoned carts.
Products that don’t look or function exactly as expected are to blame for some 20% of returned products purchased online. Properly cleansed data, complete attributes, and well-populated descriptions are all required to help shoppers understand an offering. Without this information in the fashion product catalog, there’s no way to convey a product’s exact details to the shopper. And that can mean problems for everyone.
Modern fashion needs modern tools: here’s what to do for your fashion product catalog
In the era of fast-fashion and consumers who want the latest trends and best deals ASAP, manual data management is not enough to get products to market in time. There are several ways to address the problems listed above. Machine learning, better campaign practices, and other actions will all help. However, each of these problem areas also require better product catalog management. Product catalogs are the foundation of success in all parts of the fashion industry. C-level and everyone involved needs to understand that the game has fundamentally changed and manual processes are neither scalable nor competitive.
Businesses must find solutions that:
- Automate data entry, cleansing, and optimizing
- Make it easy to version collections with different languages, regions, and other specifics
- Are easy to use and bring new opportunities instead of just tasks and more work to be done
- Integrate with raw data sources (for example, PIM) as well as sales, marketing, and business channels
Once you have your product catalog management under control, you can move on to bigger and better things: scale and grow market shares; expand and optimize for mobile; delight customers with perfect, useful information; and making your marketing team happy by supporting new campaign and marketing opportunities.