The markets in apparel retail are getting wider day by day and with the advent of e-commerce, the competition has become even fiercer. Garment retailers need to manage their operations efficiently by coordinating the backend supply chain and providing better products and enhancing customer satisfaction. Hence brick and mortar apparel stores need an effective way to survive in the changing times of e-tailing.

The pioneering concept of lean manufacturing that focuses on dealing with bottlenecks in the inventory is used in developing a tool that translates well into the apparel retail industry. Lean retailing fulfills what the customer wants, when the customer wants it, where the customer wants it, and in what quantity does the customer want it. This ideology was adopted by Wal-Mart, and subsequently used by large retailers like J.C. Penny, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, The Gap, and Zara. These apparel companies use technologies such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and barcodes to determine the appropriate movement of inventory and manage the merchandise inside the store as per customer requirements.

The philosophy of lean retailing works on identifying and minimizing wastages to simplify and make the operations smooth. In lean retailing, waste is measured in consumption of time and capital and not in physical material. Hence over-production, inefficient transportation, unnecessary motions, inappropriate processing, rejects & defects, time wasted in waiting, and over stocking are some wastages in a typical apparel retail set-up that need to be worked upon.

The ever-changing demand and desires of customers, the availability of plenty of options, and competitive prices are key areas every garment retailer needs to consider. In case of apparels, the fashion and styles are changing fast and so the manufacturers need to keep pace with the changing trends. Due to such problems apparel retailers require a system like lean retailing to streamline all its operations and have an uninterrupted work-flow designed every single time.

The lean retailing follows certain principles that are described by James Womack and Daniel Jones in their book titled Lean Thinking as follows:

  • If your customers expect products to be delivered on trend, then eliminate obstacles such as extra handling and improve processes that are inhibited by poor workflow design.
  • Plot the value stream. Identify and map all the steps involved in moving goods through the system, all the way to the customer. Activities that add no value must be eliminated.
  • Make the process flow. Redesign processes that prevent the free flow of products to the customer.