Excellent inventory management is essential for a successful online apparel store. However, achieving it is not always straightforward. Here are four actionable strategies to implement.
Invest in demand forecasting to minimize surprise
Fashion consumers have notoriously finicky tastes. The hottest item during one season could become the product no one wants during the next. That’s why demand forecasting tools can be smart investments for e-commerce apparel brands.
They can predict which styles people will want most, as well as how many to buy. One research firm showed that the apparel industry had only a 60% sell-through rate. The analysts attributed that amount to insufficient inventory management.
Fortunately, demand forecasting could raise the percentage by giving representatives from online apparel stores more insight into people’s probable purchases.. Additionally, those analysis tools could indicate how likely people are to buy the products at full price, which helps the company’s bottom line.
Another demand forecasting advantage is that it can estimate the impact of specific demographic and regional trends on your future sales. For example, a recent study indicated that nearly a quarter of Canadians plan to buy most of their merchandise online, even after COVID-19 restrictions ease. That segment increased to one-third among the under-44 age group. Plus, more than 25% of respondents aged 18-34 plan to buy and wear only new clothes after the pandemic.
Improve product descriptions to reduce returns
Online clothing offers shoppers convenience, but it comes with downsides, too. For example, you can’t pick up a shirt and feel the material or try on the garment to see how it fits. Returned products pose inventory management challenges for online apparel stores. However, making the product descriptions as detailed and useful as possible can set the right expectations.
Helping customers envision the outcome is critical with made-to-order goods. J. Press, which sells custom suits and shirts, uses digital photography on its website to help people choose their features. That’s exceptionally helpful due to the 1,260 configurations a person can select when designing a dress shirt.
However, you don’t have to get quite as high-tech if that’s not feasible right now. Start by showing garments from different angles in product descriptions. Additionally, let people zoom in on items to appreciate their textures or ornamental details. Another possibility is to encourage purchasers to review their apparel and mention if it was true to size.
All these things could have a direct and positive impact on returns reductions by giving customers more transparency. Thus, e-commerce retailers will take a major step in optimizing their inventory management.
Try product bundling to increase consumer interest
Even e-commerce retailers that already follow many best practices will occasionally find too many slow-moving products taking up inventory space. Lowering the prices of those products is one of the most common tactics to get them sold and make room for newer merchandise.
It’s an option, but bundling the products to catch attention could help them sell faster while adding more to your bottom line. Bundling can also help people imagine how they’ll use the clothes they buy.
Consider the example where you pair a swimsuit with a beach towel. Alternatively, take a similar approach with a bathrobe and a fluffy towel that someone can use as they step out of the shower. In those cases, buying the towels in bulk gives you a lower per-unit price than their individual prices.
When deciding what to bundle and which prices to set, get creative and put yourself in the consumer’s position. The goals are to increase the perceived value of the bundled products while simultaneously clearing your warehouse of excess goods.
Consider outsourcing fulfillment needs to streamline order processing
A substantial part of inventory management involves shortening the time between when an e-commerce customer finalizes their clothing purchase on a website, and they get the goods on their doorstep. Decision-makers at an apparel website may see that most orders get shipped considerably slower than competitors’ capabilities, even when all items are in stock. In such cases, working with a fulfillment company can minimize those challenges.
Order fulfillment can have a larger impact on inventory management than you might expect. For example, some of these supply chain partners give ongoing insights regarding stock levels and inventory age. That way, executives at e-commerce apparel stores can have a clearer picture of what customers respond to well and which products don’t appeal to them as much.
Another benefit of outsourcing fulfillment is that the companies you depend on can help you meet customer expectations by upholding consistency and quality. For example, the process of packaging and shipping a $2,500 dress will likely differ from the steps taken with a $25 frock. The costlier item might include a luxury garment bag, a personalized thank-you note to the purchaser and a guarantee of the item arriving by overnight delivery.
Better inventory management starts now
There’s no single, guaranteed way to succeed in inventory management. However, the five strategies suggested here are among the best practices, so they’re excellent starting points. Before trying any of them, consider choosing some metrics that can help you track and measure gains or areas for further improvement. Doing that facilitates confirming what’s working well and which efforts need more tweaking to give optimal results.