Turning customers’ heads has never been more difficult for fashion retailers. Consumers are used to shopping across a wide range of different channels, which has led to higher expectations for a consistent brand experience, and much less loyalty.
“For fashion retailers, today’s operating landscape is unrecognisable from that of ten years ago,” says Tony Bryant, who leads the business strategy for multi-channel at K3 Retail. “The rise of technology has changed customer behaviour and, as a consequence, put increased pressure on brands to find new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.”
One way of doing this is by creating a much more personal experience for customers. “Success requires innovation and dedication,” says Bryant. “In an anytime, anywhere, any product shopping environment, retailers need to find new ways to personalise the customer experience and deliver value, through whichever channel they choose to shop. It’s never been more important that consumers have the same experience any time they interact with a brand.”
While some retailers are getting it right, Bryant believes that many have the misconception that they can equip their staff with a few tablets and everything will be ok. “It’s far from being that simple,” he explains. “Retailers need to learn the art of clienteling – how you engage with customers and find opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. It’s also about knowing who the customer is when they walk in the store and using business intelligence to understand what they’ve bought from the store in the past or, for example, to see that they’ve been on the store’s website just the day before. Retailers that understand the customer’s history with the brand will also be able to more accurately predict what they might want to buy in the future.”
Although retailers have learnt a lot more about better engaging with customers in recent years through their e-commerce efforts, many haven’t created the same levels of engagement in their physical stores. There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement when it comes to joining up the channels effectively. According to the recent Brand Market report by fashion industry magazine Drapers, less than a third of fashion brands believe that they are truly multi-channel. “Joining up channels effectively can create a fantastic message,” says Bryant. “It is vital brands understand their customers and pre-empt their requirements by offering a seamless and engaging experience.”
With all this in mind, it’s of paramount importance that fashion retailers have the correct IT infrastructure in place to eliminate waste and provide vital information on how improvements can be made to facilitate and predict consumer demands. “This is why we have developed the ax|is fashion solution,” says Bryant.
Launched at the Microsoft Dynamics Convergence event in Barcelona late last year, ax|is fashion is the latest addition to K3’s technology portfolio and has benefitted from more than £2.5 million worth of investment from the company so far. “With a huge amount of experience working with fashion houses, we decided the industry, especially the niche and high-end fashion segment, needed a reliable, flexible solution that could deliver everything a retailer needs, from concept to consumer,” explains Bryant. “So often today, retailers have to compromise on their technology and they find themselves lacking all the functionality they need. This isn’t the case with ax|is fashion. Our solution provides a way for fashion and apparel retailers worldwide to better manage their processes and channels, giving them much-needed insight and control.”
The solution offers a range of customised tools that are preconfigured to align to specific tasks and processes, driving agility and productivity. These tools include: colour, size and fit handling; sales order management; season management; omni-channel planning; product data management and product lifecycle management; and insight and control.
“We spent a lot of time and effort creating a seamless, end-to-end solution that is fit for fashion,” explains Russell Dorset, K3 Retail’s managing director. “We saw the need for one solution that could work across all the elements in the value chain. So if you’re a wholesaler going direct to the consumer with a web shop, or a brand owner requiring product management, wholesale and retail capabilities, ax|is fashion can support your requirements today, as well as cater to future growth and expansion plans.”
The solution is built on Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail, which brings a number of additional benefits. “Using the familiar Microsoft environment, I believe, gives us a big advantage,” says Bryant. “It’s totally intuitive – it’s easy to deploy and there’s little need for training. Users can move backwards and forwards in Dynamics AX in exactly the same way as they can in Windows, using breadcrumb navigation. Similarly, Dynamics AX is divided into functional modules, displayed as icons – the same way our e-mail accounts are divided. As a user, if you’re used to working with product data, you can instantly relate to the functions available, which are all broken down into sensible tabs for each major function relating to products.”
The role-tailored client functionality inherent in Dynamics AX also provides a big advantage. “This fundamentally changes the way a merchandiser, for example, does their job,” says Bryant. “It gives them a list of jobs to do and highlights outstanding items. Collaboration is all part of it, and reporting against your job role has never been simpler. Instead of spending a whole weekend generating a report for a Monday morning meeting, the system does it for you. It uses real-time information to make accurate predictions, instead of making generalisations using last week’s data.”
And, with the imminent release of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3, Bryant expects even richer functionality. “With the R3 release we’ll see much stronger warehouse functionality, giving retailers even better channel management, replenishment and fulfilment capabilities.”
This will make it possible for retailers to quickly act on customers’ changing requirements with a few clicks of a button, while keeping logistics and transportation costs low. Furthermore, the timely, end-to-end visibility into supply chain operations helps retailers better balance inventory and operating expenses. This will be supported with SKU-level demand forecasting based on historic data, using a combination of Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Excel to view, visualise and edit the forecast data.
“We’ll also see greater POS functionality and more support for head office and call centre operations. It will allow total connectivity between all channels, hooking up the product piece with customer information,” says Bryant.
It’s this real connectivity that Bryant believes will transform the way retailers work. “We need to turn the statistic that less than a third of fashion brands believe that they are truly multi-channel on its head,” he says. “We need to go above and beyond customer expectations and understand how to change retail for the better. Today’s technology offers a huge amount of potential. Ultimately, every store could become a flagship store because, for the first time, there is access to the main stock pool at store level. This can create a much more efficient organisation and lead to more satisfied customers.”
Bryant believes that the high street will continue to change at a rapid rate. “In ten years’ time it will still be very much alive and kicking, but also very different to what it is now,” he says. “Retailers will be truly multi-channel and stores will become experience centres. There’s no doubt that retailers need to prepare for this change now in order to stay in business.”
This article was first published in the Spring 2014 issue of Speak
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