Supplier engagement, it will never go out of fashion

Fashion: notoriously one of the richest, most fast paced industries within retail. However operationally, the fashion industry comes up against many challenges. From the environmental impacts and poor working conditions of “fast fashion” to the way retailers choose to engage and communicate with their suppliers. All of which have had detrimental effects on the industry and with the recent outbreak of COVID-19 retailers face even more challenges to tackle.

Fashion retailer New Look, delayed their supplier payments “indefinitely” during the start of COVID-19, communicating by letter that suppliers must come and collect stock straight away. Deeming it a matter of survival as New Look cancelled the orders for their spring and summer collection.

Using Supplier Engagement to benefit the industry

As passionate advocates and experts in supplier engagement, S4RB believe that supplier engagement can be of great benefit to the fashion industry to help reduce waste, repeat issues and unsatisfied customers.

Most products within the fashion industry are made in batches, bought in bulk, shipped to the retailer and then sold. Because of this, the communication between retailer and supplier tends to be very direct. The retailer knows exactly what they want and the price they’re willing to pay for it. But what happens if there is an issue with the products produced? An error in production not yet picked up until it reaches the customer. Because of the buying process, the manufacturing for that product has already ended.

The danger: the cost of waste and returns are already built into the commercial model, so a majority of customer feedback goes unnoticed – the retailer expects to take on these costs. But customer feedback can be used to the benefit of the retailer.

Managing and benefitting from customer feedback

Increasing the number of eyes on customer feedback, such as allowing suppliers access, has a greater chance of preventing repeat issues with the products sold. If customers are complaining about a regular failure point, this can be identified and rectified in the manufacturing process as the supplier now has full sight of the issue. In turn creating fewer returns of the product for faults and a reduction in waste! Ultimately saving the retailer hundreds if not millions of pounds in waste alone!

Sharing customer feedback with suppliers isn’t just of benefit to preventing product issues, it’s to strengthen the relationship between retailer and supplier. Resulting in quicker, efficient communication, trust and loyalty which is extremely key for retail success. 

In my next blog, I’ll discuss the sourcing process of the fashion industry and how S4RB can help fashion retailers through the journey of risk assessing suppliers and collecting product level information.

Chrissy Gayle

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