The rise in e-commerce is putting pressure on companies to adopt new capabilities but it’s also highlighting the need for them to focus on fundamentals.
In footwear, online sales require shoe companies to get the fit right every time, and there’s no room for defects. Otherwise, they’ll face an avalanche of returns and reverse logistics headaches.
While other garments have a little more wiggle room—both figuratively and literally—in the way they fit, footwear fit isn’t easy to modify or work around. Footwear also needs to be comfortable in a way that other clothing doesn’t, especially in the case of workwear or athletic shoes.
Because fit in those categories is so essential, consumers are likely to return shoes that don’t measure up. Although most customers who return items end up exchanging them for something else, according to Narvar, retailers are still out the processing costs that come with handling reverse logistics. Prestige collections and luxury buys aren’t immune to high returns rates, either—quite the opposite. Data from Zappos indicates the most expensive shoe offerings on its site see return rates of around 50 percent. As sneakers continue to increase their hold on the luxury footwear market, that’s a number to be aware of.
That means to survive in an omnichannel world, footwear manufacturers need to examine their manufacturing processes with a keen eye. Because return rates are so high, footwear retailers have an even slimmer margin for defects than other apparel categories, but manufacturers still struggle with meeting sufficient quality standards, according to research by quality assurance provider Impactiva.
The wide variety of materials and techniques used in footwear manufacturing present additional challenges for consistent product quality, which gives consumers who are already a little returns-happy another reason to send back their e-commerce purchases. Malfunctions that happen frequently can generate negative buzz among customers. Worse yet, if they happen on a national stage, like a basketball court, quality issues can have a major impact on brand reputation.
That’s why Impactiva is focused on helping footwear companies improve their quality metrics. The company hones in on QA issues not just because the end consumer deserves a quality product for their money, but because of the amount of time spent reworking products on the factory floor, which in some cases is 40 percent to 60 percent of the production run, according to Impactiva’s data.
To shave valuable minutes off the production timeline, Impactiva institutes a “right-the-first-time” metric in its partner factories to reduce the amount of time employees spend reworking items. The metrics go hand-in-hand with additional skills training for employees, an area Impactiva finds sorely lacking at many factories.
Footwear manufacturing requires employees to work with a variety of materials and use several different techniques, so Impactive puts a special focus on developing those skills to improve quality metrics. For new factory workers, for example, Impactiva’s goal is for trainees to consistently perform at above 80 percent efficiency in timed tests.
The results are promising: Impactiva reports that at one partner factory in Romania, changes to workflow and additional training resulted in a 70 percent improvement in productivity over just 13 weeks. Those numbers are indicative of just how much footwear companies can—and should—improve their quality standards in order to inoculate themselves from the increased role returns will play in the ever-growing omnichannel sphere.