Once relegated to line sheets and carbon copy paper, the wholesale buying process is finally getting a digital makeover.
Platforms including Joor, NuOrder and Buyingshow have popped up in recent years to alleviate the many analog pain points faced by fashion brands and retailers while in market. Others in the industry seem to agree. These digital alternatives to showroom visits and trade shows have already won over heavy-hitter companies including Michael Kors, Asos, Loewe, Luisa Via Roma and Neiman Marcus.
On top of expediting the once-arduous process and adding more flexibility to a routine that was built around the outdated seasonal selling schedule, these platforms are helping to inform fashion businesses with previously-unseen data and analytics on specific products and current trends.
Here’s a look at how these digital applications are changing the wholesale buying process and why some companies are still so hesitant to try them.
Wait, so what was wrong with the wholesale buying process in the first place?
For starters, it was (and still is, in some cases) a slog. Despite the pool of online clothing for today’s shoppers, retailers hoping to preview unreleased collections — in order to decide what to put in their stores — had been left to travel to trade shows or make endless showroom visits. Once there, decisions were being made based on samples, printed catalogs and/or line sheets, with orders placed on carbon-copy paper (yes, it still exists) or in Excel spreadsheets. It required a lot of time and resources, and forced companies to adhere to an increasingly-dated buying schedule. Buyers, for example, were restricted to processing orders only once per season, which didn’t allow for keeping up with demand or accommodating their changing preferences on the fly.
Kristin Savilia, Joor’s CEO, was shocked to find that some people were still following this method at the Coterie trade show this September. “In 2017, that makes absolutely no sense,” she said.
Got it. How are these new wholesale platforms alleviating those pain points?
By making the transition to digital, “retail brands and buyers are able to connect and conduct business 24/7,” said Olivia Skuza, the co-founder and co-CEO of NuOrder. This is particularly helpful at a time when the seasonal selling model is losing steam in the industry and companies need the flexibility to respond to trends at their leisure. Is one item selling like hotcakes? Leopard suddenly trending (again)? With digital wholesale platforms, retailers can re-order or buy new products when needed, usually making their first purchases in smaller, less risky quantities. They can also preload their budgets each season to track spend as they go and view line sheets across all brands before making final orders.
“This real-time, dynamic buying model ensures their product and inventory selection is always accurate and up-to-date,” said Skuza.
On the brand side, these platforms allow for the easier creation and sharing of digital line sheets, tracking of current inventory levels and real-time analytics on what’s selling well (or not) for them — as well as across the platforms at-large. They are also able to get granular and visualize their sales data by retailer and/or category. Such wide-ranging data simply wasn’t possible when all purchases were resigned to paper forms, while keeping track of inventory was a slow, manual process. According to Skuza, the digital platforms “allow brands to sell more with less effort” and to tailor their own products to retailers’ needs.
Are there any downsides to going digital?
All of these digital platforms utilize iPad and iPhone apps, as well as web applications for desktop. The only bummer? You’ve got to own an Apple product to use the apps on the go.
Okay, this all sounds like a major step up. Why are some in the industry so hesitant to make the switch?
Despite all its talk of being groundbreaking, fashion is an industry known for being slow to change — especially longstanding, traditional retailers.
“Some of them are fearful that tech will impact their relationships and/or their existing processes,” said Savilia.
And “changing behavior is not necessarily easy,” added Skuza, especially for larger, corporate companies. “It requires a commitment from a strategic and resource standpoint and, in particular, full support from the top-down.”
Both Skuza and Savilia are seeing the tides change, and making integration of the technology as easy as possible is key to doing that. Instead of just signing up new retailers and brands and leaving them to figure it out from there, these new platforms must provide seamless set-up and educational services. They’re working to make it even easier for the sake of their brands by pairing each of them with dedicated account managers.
“Once they do make the switch,” said Skuza, “they quickly find that their sales have been hindered due to inefficiencies in the buying and selling process.”