The disruptions throughout the apparel supply chain have caused retailers to rethink how they approach their operations from source to customer. But if one thing is becoming more certain, retailers can no longer rely on disparate, disconnected tools and processes when they need a real-time view of their products at all times.
JoAnn Martin, vice president of industry strategy at Blue Yonder, a provider of fulfillment and supply chain solutions, points out that the key to gaining this inventory visibility and delivering customer-centric experiences and in the Covid-19-driven environment “starts with connecting every aspect of the supply chain, from planning to execution.”
In a chat with Sourcing Journal, Martin discussed how Blue Yonder has adapted to the pandemic, the growing need for AI and machine learning to be present within a supply chain strategy to gain accurate visibility, and what 2021 holds for the apparel industry.
Sourcing Journal: Given Blue Yonder’s perspective of the overall market, what are the most noticeable trends or current issues facing the industry?
JoAnn Martin: We live in a period of increasing uncertainty and rapidly changing markets. Customers are shifting purchases online in greater numbers and shopping less frequently. We have seen the return of the weekly shopping trip versus multiple trips during the week. Some of the changes started in the COVID-19 era will likely remain in the new normal. There will be other pivots in the future.
While retailers may lack the experience to navigate changing customer behavior, they understand the fundamentals of retail pricing and know what they need to achieve. By adopting AI, machines can automatically execute strategic pricing at speeds and levels of quality that humans cannot match. AI enables retailers to quickly shift their in-store strategy to online by offering appropriate price discounts, free shipping promotions, etc., while at the same time modifying their buying behaviors to meet lower demand.
SJ: What major problems does the Blue Yonder platform seek to solve?
Martin: Every business is navigating a tech tsunami: massive volumes of data, increased complexity, lack of visibility, rising costs and apps galore. The majority of organizations recognize the crucial value of a unified view across processes and have been migrating to SaaS solutions and cognitive technologies. These progressive strategies require a foundation for leveraging advanced technologies to help improve business performance. However, implementing and managing these technologies can be labor intensive and slow. Companies need a simpler path to innovative technologies.
Today’s omnichannel, customer-centric world means delivering what customers want, when and how they want it. By integrating assets, businesses can gain the real-time visibility needed to predict and pivot when the market demands it.
To be competitive, companies need a digital fulfillment platform that is connected, comprehensive and instantaneous. Blue Yonder’s Luminate Platform is a cloud-based digital ecosystem, delivered through a SaaS model, that provides the integration, intelligence, visibility and control needed to deliver comprehensive solution suite capabilities anytime, anywhere. It leverages AI and machine learning capabilities to provide synchronized business planning, execution, delivery, and labor solutions to optimize your business and people end-to-end.
SJ: Where do you feel Blue Yonder’s recent expansions such as the Yantriks acquisition have enabled the company to improve on solving these supply chain issues?
Martin: The Yantriks acquisition augmented our Luminate Commerce portfolio substantially, particularly related to delivering a differentiated shopping experience for the end consumer throughout their shopping process. Now, retailers can present real-time inventory availability to consumers and make real-time order promising decisions. When a customer places an item in their cart, they can see exactly how many are left in inventory, and where the product will be shipped from. This level of fulfillment transparency increases orders, customer acquisitions, and conversion rates, and reduces cart abandonment and customer service calls.
SJ: How has your team’s strategy changed in the wake of the pandemic?
Martin: What the pandemic revealed is that without a central way to manage data, businesses can’t make informed decisions. What’s also needed more than ever is an open and extensible ecosystem that delivers efficiencies through business automation, eliminates data silos, and provides real-time end-to-end visibility.
Even before the pandemic, our customers were migrating to the cloud because of the benefits and now they’re migrating their supply chain applications to the cloud to prevent supply chain disruptions. With our Microsoft partnership, customers who transition to cloud-based solutions can harness multiple benefits starting with increased agility and speed, by leveraging the power of AI and ML solutions to help deliver accuracy, automation and intelligence.
SJ: Where do you feel the biggest market differentiators are now for Blue Yonder?
Martin: We see the biggest opportunity in maximizing connectivity and data—meaning leveraging real-time, internal (historical, organizational) and external (social, IoT, weather, events, etc.) data sources to build the most complete picture of your supply chain environment and harmonizing all that data in one place. By unifying your supply network on Luminate Platform, you can better predict, prevent and resolve disruptions across your entire business, then deliver the fastest, most cost-effective and most strategic response. Our platform integrates and synchronizes forecasting, fulfillment, warehousing, transportation, labor and delivery across multiple channels, reducing the latency and inefficiencies created by disjointed systems.
SJ: What is your perspective on 2021 in the fashion/apparel industry, particularly as everyone aims to bounce back from the pandemic?
Martin: Here are some things to look for in 2021: The role of the store will continue to evolve. As sales move online, retailers will look to repurpose store space to process more online orders to reduce costs of shipping. Retailers will look to shorten their lead times by moving more production to nearshoring to provide flexibility, and they will seek out regionalized distribution in order to facilitate online and store flow with speed.
Sustainability will remain a topic through waste mitigation and ethical sourcing. Customer data will be leveraged to integrate and predict demand as customer behaviors change. With this in mind, AI will help retailers make smart decisions in the face of unpredictability. Localization will be key to differentiation and customer satisfaction. Pricing will become more automated and tied to assortment lifecycle strategies set through more robust assortment planning.