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Regional Director UK - Southern Europe - South Asia Alvanon
Consumer experience is becoming the new currency
Alvanon was founded in 2001 when it developed a unique data-driven approach to solve sizing and fitting challenges in the apparel industry. The company has evolved into a global consulting firm, advising leading apparel retailers on how to align internal teams, processes and supply chains and more intimately engage their existing and target customers. Simon Fernandes, Regional Director UK - Southern Europe - South Asia, Alvanon discusses how apparel retailers can turn challenges into opportunities to satisfy New Age customers.
How would you describe the global apparel retail industry? What are the "Aha!" and "Ouch!" moments apparel retail has faced in the past two years?
Over the past couple of years, the apparel industry has faced major changes that have seen the consumer become the true centre of attention. Trends and consumption tendencies are now more democratic. Consumers dictate their likes, and brands are becoming less able to tell us what we need or should want. As more and more of us use social media, we communicate at lightning speed. Brands and retailers must embrace this technology, become part of this new world and engage with the consumer in ways we have not seen before.
An "Ouch!" factor with social media is that fashion fatigue can undermine the magic of product desirability. We can become overloaded by seeing a garment hundreds of times before it hits the shop floor and get bored of a trend before it even reaches our high streets or department stores.
A solution to this is being adopted by a few who offer see-now-buy-now, which allows consumers to maintain the emotion of desirability from runway launches to owning the items almost instantly, rather than months later. We need to react to consumers quickly and efficiently. Businesses can no longer treat consumers merely as statistics. They are individuals.
What major trends can be found in consumer behaviour with respect to apparel and fashion? Which regions are driving consumer preferences in the global market?
Consumer experience is becoming the new currency, and brands are starting to realise that enhancing the consumer's experience is a high priority. Younger groups see themselves as brands. We need to sell fashion to their lifestyles and their individual emotions. Retailers and brands no longer sell to people in this younger, evolving population. They are selling to brands themselves.
Sustainability and conscious production are not a trend but are becoming more important to the consumer who is becoming more aware and considerate of the impact that one's fashion choices have on the environment and also the welfare of production workers.
The likes of New York, London, Paris and Milan are still major players, but we have seen big urban environments such as Stockholm, Berlin, Seoul, Vittoria in Brazil, Barcelona and also Tokyo starting to surface and become more influential through channels such as fashion blogging.
What are the five best methods to get the right fit from the manufacturing point of view for apparel brands and retailers? What are the new technologies expected that could bring about a paradigm change in terms of fit and sizing?
Brands and retailers really have to understand who their customer is. This is sometimes the most difficult process that companies go through because individuals within a business often have their own perception of who the customer is and who they should be.
Once internal brand agreement has been established, the customer's core size profile should be used to create technical fit tools that allow disciplines within a business to align and create on a more consistent basis. Following that, management should optimise the grade rules to address the target population's shapes in ways other than the core size, ways that truly reflect their body shapes and proportions while maintaining design integrity throughout the size range offering. These tools should be used throughout the supply chain, enabling a sleeker and more efficient product development process resulting in considerable time and financial savings.
Creating a suite of blocks, i.e. templates, will best position suppliers to execute accurate and consistent style patterns with perfect shape and balance. They also help shorten development time and reduce the number of samples needed for approval. They can be easily integrated into PLM (product lifecycle management) software and tech packs to give all vendors the tools they need to execute your standard anywhere in the world.
PLM is another point that companies should address. Companies should have the right systems and platforms for their own specific businesses. Do your systems have the right information at the right time and do personnel using these systems have the correct understanding of how to use them? A review of processes and protocols is necessary. Having the right tools in place helps but is not the be all and end all.
Additionally, train all internal and external stakeholders on how to take advantage of new tools and processes, how to meet new, heightened expectations for consistent product, and to understand how all this is critical to building sales and adding new, loyal customers.
With e-commerce exploding, any user-friendly online tool that operates with software or algorithms can help consumers make educated sizing and fit choices, should be considered essential. They can ultimately reduce multiple sales of the same product and the overall cost of returns. Clear and concise communication to the consumer is fundamental with regards to sizing and fit intent.
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