Apparel brands, like brands in other product categories, are increasingly looking to the Internet to expand their market share and increase overall revenue. However, apparel, unlike many other product categories, historically has given pause to many fulfillment companies who prefer not to tackle this category. What makes this category so daunting to many fulfillment professionals? Typically the high number of SKUs (multiples of thousands), uneven receiving standards due to multiple global vendors differing product types (flat, hanging, accessories, footwear, and high value jewelry) necessitating different pick/pack strategies, and fashion forward merchandising strategies - low depth/ high breadth necessitating pinpoint inventory control to calibrate the warehouse with the web.
What should an apparel brand seek from their fulfillment partner? Below is a quick check list of Warwick deliverables that we believe are essential:
Specific Category Expertise. - Has the team managed apparel with your brands unique genetic code, i.e., staples versus fashion forward, hanging versus flat or both, luxury brand versus day to day apparel, etc.?
Vendor Compliance - Does the system provide flexibility to manage issues that arise in the global sourcing world such as one SKU being sourced by multiple vendors in different countries, etc.
Refurbishing expertise - in the fast paced mobile/global e-commerce world speed to re-furbish is as important as providing re-furbish services - speed sells especially in fashion forward apparel lines!
Brand Extension - image conscious apparel brands require a fulfillment partner that can extend the brand image through custom solutions. What has your provider done in support of apparel brand extension is a great question to ask.
Flexibility - chances are your requirements today may change to meet the demands of today's market place.... Is the potential fulfillment provider flexible in terms of IT, systems and overall philosophy OR must your brands needs it into a predetermined solution?
End-to-End Solutions - your brand may not need an end-to-end solution today but it is often helpful if the fulfillment provider can offer assistance with things like content management and photography. What services doe the provider offer? For example - if a product arrives at the fulfillment provider's warehouse, can you entrust the provider to take a product shot and make it available on the web in a timely manner?
IT Resources - does the provider offer in-house IT resources to support your business as new aspects of your business unfold? Flash sales, continuity programs may not be something your brand wants at go live but could the provider support them?
Ability to meet deadlines and SLAs - does the provider have an "A" level track record in meeting GO LIVE dates and adhering to SLAs?
Another resource for apparel and footwear companies is the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA). To find out about the AAFA go to: www.wewear.org