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Is Outbreak Forcing Fashion’s Digital Future?

As store and corporate office closures mount, brands are taking stock of of their e-commerce channels and online-based operational efficiencies. It’s likely that they’re not loving what they see.

The use of advanced retail technologies and platforms was already on the rise before the outbreak of COVID-19, but now more than ever, the sector is looking to tech tools to help bring order to a retail landscape steeped in chaos.

On Thursday, B2B wholesole solutions platform NuOrder pledged to support the industry by offering up its tools for free, as long as the pandemic-posed problems persist.

NuOrder’s double-sided program allows brands to create proposals and orders for retailers, and allows retailers to find new brands, create assortments, and merchandise their buys. The platform also facilitates the ordering process.

“We’re removing pen, paper, Excel, printed catalogues and line sheets” from the typical process of connecting brands with buyers, said NuOrder co-founder Olivia Skuza.

The decision to offer up the tool for free was precipitated by the fear and uncertainty that has gripped the industry.

“We currently operate with over 2,000 brands and 500,000 retailers, and we’ve been inundated with cries for help,” Skuza said.

Brands are currently facing a cash crunch, and sales reps are stuck at home or at the office. Many of the in-person venues—like fashion shows and trade shows—that brands typically rely on to connect with prospective buyers have been canceled.

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At this juncture, brands are “scrambling to deal with potential returns and cancellations from retailers,” Skuza said. “They’re just trying to buckle down and mitigate their losses—then develop a plan for once they get out of this state.”

NuOrder allows brands to create and share unlimited catalogues with retailers, and collaborate with them in a digital environment.

In the short term, Skuza hopes her company can buck up those that are struggling by removing the financial burden of shelling out for the software they need. “Long term, we’re going to be educating the market so that they can really enjoy the benefits of being digital,” she said.

In spite of the frenzied atmosphere, Skuza said brands are thinking forward to next season. They know they’re in a bind now, and they want to lay the groundwork for future success.

“The conversations we’re having are that brands want to be in a position of strength when the market changes and when it turns around,” Skuza said, “to ensure that they can accelerate and move forward.”

The current crisis has created a pressure cooker wherein brands are being forced to take a hard look at the way they’re presenting product to retail partners. “They’re looking to clean up their existing product catalogs and refresh content, just as they would on their B2C channels,” she said.

Retailers are also clearly putting more into their online presentations, as shoppers have been locked out of brick-and-mortar.

While Skuza sees online as the undeniable new frontier (not just for commerce, but for business management), she knows that a face-to-face element will always be important to industry insiders.

“Humans thrive on interaction with other humans,” she said. “But I do think that the reliance on that will significantly shift.”

Even prior to the pandemic, the nature of buying and selling was changing, she said. Reduced foot traffic at trade shows was prompting many brands to rethink their participation. “They may have been going to shows two to three times per selling season, but now buying and selling is happening 24/7,” she said.

“Behavioral changes are hard,” she admitted, but the move toward a more tech-centered future for the fashion industry is inevitable.

“A wave of people are moving to a digital forum and landscape, and they’re not going to slide backwards,” she said.

Retail technology companies across the board appear to be ramping up their capabilities in the event that the future arrives sooner than planned.

Last week, Joor, a digital wholesale platform for fashion, beauty and home, joined forces with Ordre, which has created technology that allows buyers to comprehensively review styles before placing online wholesale orders.

Ordre’s ORB360 technology houses images from wholesale sample collections, allowing buyers to check out products remotely.

The partnership hopes to mitigate the impacts of extensive coronavirus-induced travel restrictions, which prevent buyers from visiting physical showrooms.

According to a statement from the companies, ORB360’s images are produced by mobile units that capture images in a designer’s showroom or studio, creating a 360-degree view of each product.

These images can then be uploaded to Joor’s virtual platform, where buyers can place their wholesale orders directly with designers.

Later in the year, retailers will have the ability to integrate ORB360 images into their own e-commerce sites, giving shoppers an engaging, animated view of the products up for purchase.

“For virtual showrooms to be effective, they need to be able to present enhanced digital assets that allow buyers to truly understand the creative and often complex creations of ready-to-wear designers,” Simon Lock, founder and CEO of Ordre, said in a statement.

“ORB360 images really communicate every product detail and give confidence to buyers for the first time to place orders remotely,” he added. “We are so pleased we can bring this technology to more of the industry through Joor’s unparalleled global network.”