Shifting gears: merchandising leaders move into the future with Data-driven insights

Remember when the world of fashion had two seasons, spring-summer and fall-winter, and four fashion capitals? 

Shifting Gears: Merchandising Leaders Move into the Future with Data-Driven Insights

Today merchandising leaders can be changing lanes and driving success, with as many as 52 weekly “micro-seasons” per year. Yet the typical lead time for the fashion industry is 40 weeks2, according to McKinsey & Company. But leading players have learned how to tap into technologies to sprint from product design to purchasing in weeks, not months.

McKinsey’s research concluded:

“Digitization of concept, design and sampling can cut many weeks from the typical process, which is often slowed by multiple handoffs and overdevelopment. While a digitized model may not be comfortable for designers and merchants, it needs to become the new way of working in fashion.

How quickly organizations embrace digitalization can mean the difference between being ahead of the pack or left behind. Merchandising leaders who are agile in their approach know that speed to market is crucial to success, so it should be no surprise that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said improving speed to market was a top priority for their organization.

Creativity and Insights: Driving in the Same Lane

Merchandising leaders know that quickly uncovering what their target wants is the key to speeding up the value chain. But to do so requires an in-depth look at data analytics and real-time insights, studying social media, customer inquiries and comments, influencers, product ratings and top-performing competitors, among others. All of which can be very time-consuming. According to McKinsey, “few are taking advantage of the broad insights across their business, and many rely on a single source of insight, such as sell-through data or product rankings.”

So how do merchandising leaders harness a wide range of consumer insights and data analytics to increase speed to market? It comes down to having the proper resources and shifting the culture around the use of data. Because fashion organizations have long defined themselves as creative-driven, shifting the mindset to data-driven isn’t going to be an overnight process. Today merchandising leaders have to strike the perfect balance of being both – and lead their teams to do the same.

The Strategy of Speed

Cultural shifts are foundational to increasing speed to market, but the strategy for change doesn’t stop there. Organizations today have to be able to pivot quickly and easily. Brands like Zara, Rag and Bone, Helmut Lang and Gucci focus on flexibility, collaboration, a faster production process and consumer-driven trends to be fast to market with relevant pieces that demand to be worn. These brands are proving the world of fashion can move from the Model A to a Ferrari, taking fashion down the track at faster, more fluid pace. But with a lack of collaboration, clear processes and real-time data, it would be nearly impossible to do.

Vertically integrated supply chains and more control over the production process are also allowing for faster pivots during the production cycle. Investing in technology and eliminating inefficiencies improved and integrated the supply chain for brands like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger. Taking control at the helm of the production process is the first step in reducing lag time and staying consumer-driven in a fast-fashion world.

The Rearview and Windshield

Reaching into the past is useful as it helps inform decisions as leaders forge ahead, but an effective approach also calls for them to constantly assess what the future holds. This means leaders need a clear plan to break down internal silos, shift the culture, lead with collaboration and learning, and embrace a data-driven approach in a creative world.

Exclusively looking in the rearview doesn’t provide a complete perspective, and looking only into the future doesn’t provide complete picture, either. Being able to seamlessly shift between both provides the best course of action.

Merchandising, financial and creative teams need to have access to the right digital tools to compete in today’s digital world. The need for insights, action and speed can no longer be ignored.

To learn more about how your team can increase its speed to market and overcome common challenges, download our eBook, “Rack Race: 4 Ways to Speed Collections Across the Finish Line.