Why personalisation isn't the future – it's the present
A shift from traditional mass manufacturing to more agile production with multiple capsule collections and scaled personalised production is being driven by hyper-connected consumers who thrive on instant gratification. For brands and retailers the challenge is to listen to what consumers want, and produce the right products at the right quantities for the right audience – which is where digitalisation and analytics comes in.
In the last decade, fashion brands, retailers and manufacturers have found themselves faced with a wealth of challenges, not least of which is that consumers want access to the latest trends – now.
"Consumers today thrive on instant gratification," explains Peter Jeavons, managing director, Europe, at predictive analytics platform First Insight. "They want things and want them now. They're not willing to wait on a retail store stocking the product for example. And there is much less brand loyalty. If they don't like what they see on offer from one brand, they will switch to another at the click of a button."
He adds that standing still is not an option. "It used to be the case from a technology point of view that doing something always presented more risk than doing nothing. There is a growing belief now that it's more risky to do nothing than to do something. If you're not doing something and other people are, you're falling behind."
Not long ago, consumers would actively seek out fashion through web searches, but today they can be targeted directly on their smartphones via social media platforms.
Céline Choussy, chief marketing officer at software and technology specialist Lectra, refers to this as the "hyper-connected consumer" who can shop via various platforms and share their thoughts, emotions and opinions on different channels. The advantage to brands, retailers and manufacturers of this "sharing culture" is access to "a goldmine of data" about their consumer bases.
And consumers are demanding personalisation; apparel that represents their thoughts, feelings and emotions. "The end consumer shares everything on the net via Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. E-commerce websites are full of information, what they want, how they feel. It is a goldmine for designers to anticipate the right times to launch a design."
Personalisation "is a challenge" impacting the entire supply chain, she says, but at the same time it could also be a real opportunity for manufacturers.
"[Personalisation] is a huge goldmine for designers, people working for creative teams, to anticipate trends and produce the right products at the right time" – Céline Choussy, Lectra
"When we talk about personalisation it means we are no longer in a push mode, producing volumes of shirts, T-shirts, sweaters, hoping they sell. The opportunity? We are producing based on what our customers are willing to buy.
"This changes a lot of business models for our customers. It changes production because you can get the money before you start to produce. Inventory is very, very limited, and there are basically no returns because it's made according to your measurements and your tastes. There are no markdowns. The opportunity at one end is complex. But at the other end, we have the technologies that allow for it to be a profitable one.
"It is a huge goldmine for designers, people working for creative teams, to anticipate trends and produce the right products at the right time."
Strategist Craig Crawford of ThinkIT, CreateIT, says every market is on this personalisation journey, though at different points. For example, in the UK the focus is more toward casual attire but with a premium feel. In the US it is a move from "obvious branding" to "quality" with 'Made-in-the-US "terribly important."
"China is looking at brands as a status symbol; and Italy has a focus on heritage and craftsmanship, they want to stand out rather than fit in."
And brands are picking up on this, he adds. This year 27% were offering some sort of personalisation, a jump from 16% last year. From the consumer point of view, 71% are ready to pay a premium for personalisation and 15% of them would pay up to 40% more for it.
For manufacturers, the challenge is catering to this need for personalisation, but at greater scale – and faster. Lectra has devised two such solutions it believes can meet the demand for faster turnaround on mass production of personalised items.
Data is key
Lectra says its Cutting Room 4.0 and Fashion on Demand technologies are intended to respond to a growing mountain of data, drawing it in from the various locations and helping retailers and brands make sense of it so they can deliver what their customers want, and fast.
"'Big Data' is collected through the cloud, artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning. All of it allows vendors to better understand their end consumer. But how much data can you use, how do you filter out what you don't need? The key is not with the data itself, it's more about what you do with it," asserts Choussy.
"What you are willing to change with this data? Why do you collect it? Ultimately, we need to use the data and understand it in order to better serve our customers and end consumers. That's why Lectra puts its end consumer at the very centre of our strategy."
Gaillard agrees. "What the technologies aim to do is actually address production challenges. Is the problem with efficiency? Is it a throughput issue with the machine? Is it fabric efficiency or operator efficiency? These were the questions customers were coming to us with. So the idea is to select the right programme to tackle a specific challenge: the right level of data, with the right interface, with the expertise of Lectra on top and using the latest technologies.
"This will come into the shape of two things: real-time control, and analysing in detail things that have happened in the past and what could happen. It's about improving quality, boosting productivity and better decision making to really feed into continuous improvement and reduced costs using data analytics. This is really what we want to push in terms of data."
Crawford explains digital and data are not a fad. "Digital is not a project, this is not going away. It is a journey. The device has changed...but you have to keep up.
"Digital is not a project, this is not going away. It is a journey. The device has changed...but you have to keep up" – Craig Crawford, ThinkIT, CreateIT
"The next generation is growing up in a digital world, and they speak socially. Whether you're talking with customers or talking with employees, you have to do it on a social platform, because that's the language they speak.
"Blend physical and digital. Your staff has to be on social. Your IT department can't block that. They have to spend their time on Facebook. They should, the brand is there. Staff should be incentivised for eCommerce sales."
A fundamental question is whether the industry is truly ready for a move to fully digitalising all processes.
"There is a seismic shift from push to pull," asserts Crawford. "Products pulled into the market based on actual demand rather than pushed based on best guesses and forecasts. Under the pull dynamic, the customer leads. In the old way we would make and make and make in volumes based on spend analysis, and now here we are with an inventory pothole and with retailers going out of business. Fundamentally customers don't want choice. They want what they want."
Part of the problem is a real reluctance from brands to move over. "Millennials want to be involved in the evolution of the product and feel involved in the process, but brands are hesitant to hand over the reins," he adds.
"They're worried about price and margin, supply chain/logistics are not set up to go from digital to physical, they're not familiar with producing on demand, their supply chains aren't ready, and personalisation is not in their DNA. We need to let some of these things go," asserts Crawford.
"Everybody wins: customers get what they want, you get loyalty, the manufacturers capitalise on technological advancements, and brands can track bestsellers. The size of the prize is there is no excess inventory; you are doing amazing things for sustainability because now we don't have excess inventory we need to get rid of; lower capital; flexible, agile; shorter turnaround times...and that's all coming and it's here."