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Up Close: In Conversation with Blue Yonder’s Omar Akilah

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Omar Akilah, vice president, product – commerce at digital supply chain platform Blue Yonder, explains why apparel should keep an eye on the Consumer Packaged Goods category and the importance of being customer centric.

Omar Akilah Blue Yonder
Omar Akilah, vice president, product – commerce at Blue Yonder Courtesy

Name: Omar Akilah

Title: vice president, product – commerce

Company: Blue Yonder

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

CPG is the industry to watch. When you think of companies like Unilever, PepsiCo and Apple, their ability to continuously evolve the supply chain by leveraging emerging technologies, data science and robotics, along with solid planning, replenishment, visibility and fulfillment, makes them a tremendous example for other industries. Being able to predict demand and ensure the right products are in the right place, when and—more importantly—how the customers need and want to engage with them is something every industry, especially apparel and retail, can greatly benefit from.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I consider myself to be a digitally savvy consumer who appreciates immediacy, convenience and an innovative retail experience. I also greatly appreciate differentiation and innovation, with a focus on personalization of the experience toward my preferences and needs.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

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I think it comes down to the basics of brand, product/assortment, price and speed/convenience. I appreciate quality products and the right breadth of assortment that are at the right price and that I can get my hands on as quickly as possible. Free or lower-cost shipping/delivery is a bonus!

What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?

In Covid-19 times, I have definitely veered toward the “comfort” route of jeans and a polo for days when I have customer meetings via video conference. For days without any customer meetings, you will find me in sweats and a T-shirt.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

Wow, that’s tough as there are so many great fashion eras. For men’s fashion, I would say the ’20s for the refinement and sophistication that resulted from the introduction of colors, accessories (hats, walking sticks) and fabrics. But for casual, it would have to be the ’50s as the style for men was clean, crisp and leisurely.

Who’s your style icon?

Italian fashion has always been something I have long admired. That’s why my style icon would be Ermenegildo Zegna. I love how the style is clean, classic and versatile.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

Last year, Blue Yonder acquired the company I helped build called Yantriks. This decision has helped to accelerate our joint commerce vision, making Blue Yonder a leader in the digital supply chain and omnichannel commerce fulfillment space. We are helping retailers and direct-to-consumer manufacturers deliver on their promise to consumers while achieving financial success at the same time.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

When I came on board, there were two things that really stood out to me: Blue Yonder’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and its core values. The company’s core values—empathy, relentless, results and teamwork—are something that truly sets us apart from any of our competitors. Our associates truly live by these values and that’s what makes the company a great place to work.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

Embrace dynamicity and ensure your company’s foundation is able to adapt and pivot as needed. Another lesson is the importance of becoming customer centric, as well as breaking down silos and channels internally in order to meet your customers’ needs and market demands.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

The apparel industry should focus on: experiential differentiation, proactively reducing returns, personalization and customization, and speed and convenience. This means being able to truly innovate in the products that are being offered, especially ones that cater to the times we live in (offering masks, hand sanitizer, etc.); eliminating the volatility of sizes to reduce returns through better planning; using machine learning to forecast and plan for demand; incorporating personalization; and getting customers their products easily and fast, according to their preferences.

What keeps you up at night?

Oh, wow, quite a bit! To start, how do you balance what the industry perceives they need now versus what the industry will actually need five to 10 years from now—and the step functions to get there. The other big one is how do we continually create an environment that fosters growth, innovation, and the best products for our customers.

What makes you most optimistic?

The belief that we can—and will—make a difference. When you think of the pandemic and how industries—from science to grocery stores—embraced it by pivoting to survive and thrive is something to marvel at. The result has been a wave of innovations that will set the foundation for generations to come.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

In the commerce space, I’m proud of Blue Yonder’s Luminate Commerce solutions that have helped companies shift and pivot during the pandemic seamlessly. One of our solutions offers an “urgency to buy” feature that allows a customer, while browsing a website, to see the inventory levels for a product and the potential paths they can engage to receive it, including same-day and time slot delivery, all while balancing speed, convenience and cost to fulfill. This feature is something that we’re extremely proud of as it allows companies to truly pivot to offering customer-centric experiences.