The Apparel East 2015 conference was held last Thursday October 29th, at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. The newly rebranded retail event, hosted by Apparel Magazine, actually started the day before with a small “share group” session focused on customer intimacy. With discussions led by research and advisory group, EKN, and solution provider, PA Group, as well as participation from brands, Alexander Wang (high-end trendy fashion apparel) and J. Queen (luxury bedding), the interactive group discussed what excellence in customer service means, and provided examples and expectations of what positive engagement looks like. Some highlights from the share group session included:

  • Customer intelligence and customer service – millennials are willing to pay roughly 32% more for a product or service if it is a result of a positive customer experience. 
  • Generally millennials are more positively influenced or focused on experiences versus products.

There was discussion from Sahir Anand of EKN on how technology can enable a great customer

experience: the “listen everywhere” concept includes devices and applications to understand consumer movement and behavior and associate this with reactionary retailer behavior – service, inventory, promotions, etc.

One of our favorite quotes from the share group session was, ““I like to find what I’m looking for, when I don’t know what I’m looking for,” implying retailers must develop and engage capabilities to predict shopper wants and needs even before customers are aware of them.

Apparel East’s opening keynote was delivered by Sarah Dorsett, VP of Ecommerce for Century 21 Department Stores, who focused on engaging consumers across all channels – what it means and the journey to get there. Ms. Dorsett underscored some challenges from a small department store retailer’s perspective in deploying full omnichannel capabilities. She stressed that it is a misconception to make all brick-and-mortar merchandise available in digital channels. More than just selling fashion online, Ms. Dorsett also shared Century 21’s focus and insights on creating online differentiation via key growth pillars, social media, content and storytelling.

Susan Nichols of Apparel Magazine facilitated a panel discussion on how innovations in technology are helping retailers and brands win and keep consumers. The panel included Parker Avery’s The Parker Avery Group, and key discussion topics included customer analytics and the requirement to move social data upstream to the back office and employ those insights in areas such as merchandising, pricing and marketing, as well as how technologies like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and product lifecycle management (PLM) can support a retailer’s omni-channel strategy.

Parker Avery’s own Clay Parnell presented “Unraveling the Mysteries of Assortment Planning,” based on our newly published research study on the current status, needs and plans within assortment planning across the retail and wholesale landscape. Some key call-outs from the survey include:

  • Not all retailers created equal when it comes to assortment planning challenges, however, two issues were identified as standouts: inadequate software / tools and lack of integration. 
  • A strong majority of retailers continue to rely on spreadsheets and custom developed applications to perform Assortment Planning, despite the emergence over the last decade of viable solutions to support planning capabilities. While use of spreadsheets was expected, the ubiquity of the tool was surprising. 
  • The majority of retailers in the study do have plans to assess and implement more advanced and integrated planning solutions.

The detailed report from the survey is now available on Parker Avery’s web site by clicking here.

A couple of key discussions following the assortment planning presentation were around training, and how to enable today’s workforce to be prepared for moving from basic spreadsheets into a connected, integrated planning future world.

Later in the day, a number of small informal groups gathered for “Technology Topic Briefings,” which focused on such items as store expectations, social engagement and omnichannel retailing, modern ERP systems, leveraging technology investments, the impact of merchandise planning on customer satisfaction, PLM success (and reasons for failure), and more.

Parker Avery’s topic that was of most interest continued the assortment planning theme, so this is clearly a priority and need for many retailers. Parker Avery also led discussions around clustering for assortment planning and advanced pricing.

The topic of innovation continued into the closing keynote, in which Pano Anthos, Managing Director of retail innovator XRC Labs, discussed how 3D printing is disrupting the apparel and retail supply chain. Anthos shared examples such as Natalia Allen’s 3D printed clothing line, and introduced the founders of Thursday Finest, who sells custom 3D printed knit ties online.

All in all, the intimate event provided a wonderful opportunity for retailers and industry experts to exchange ideas, challenges and insights across a number of high-priority areas. With the beauty of autumn in New York City as a backdrop, it was the perfect setting for all attendees to enjoy each other’s camaraderie and begin planning for 2016.

– Clay

Published On: November 5, 2015Categories: Apparel, Assortment, Clay Parnell, Events, Merchandising, Research