The impact of throw-away and fast fashion trends on the eCommerce supply chain

The ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon, driven by a growing consumer desire for speed and value within retail, continues to cause a significant shift within the fashion industry. Today, consumers increasingly expect fast, cheap and up-to-date clothing through a click of a button – putting increased pressure on online retailers to deliver in ever shortening time frames.

Thanks to a rise in online shopping, through platforms such as social media, it has never been easier for consumers to obtain the latest celebrity or catwalk styles. According to a survey reported in The Standard, the average consumer is buying twice as many clothes each year as just a decade ago. This upward trend not only indicates that consumers are buying fashion items more often, but that they are also throwing away clothing just as quickly. In fact, earlier this year, a poll revealed that Britons would spend £2.7bn on more than 50 million summer outfits that would be worn just once.

With more and more consumers adopting a ‘throw-away’ fashion mentality, online brands have no choice but to keep up with a surge of orders within the delivery chain. This not only puts increased pressure on brands to ensure items are delivered as quickly and seamlessly as possible, but also to reduce packaging wastage.

Packaging responsibly

With a rise of packages being delivered and returned, as a result of fast and throw-away fashion trends, retailers must consider the potential impact this is having on the environment. To combat this, some retailers such as ASOS have recently begun using returnable mailing bags with a second seal so that they can be used twice. This however, is just a first step towards greater sustainability. For today’s online retailer, sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging should be a top eCommerce initiative.

New packaging solutions such as air-tight flexible packaging can reduce the retailers environmental by eliminates the need for an outer box. Solutions such as these have seen waste reductions of 80 per cent or more, whilst reducing storage space requirements at the distribution centre by 90 per cent. Right size packaging is another effective solution – by reducing air and void fill, retailers are able to vastly reduce waste whilst minimising shipping costs, creating a much sturdier packaging that greatly reduces damaged returns.

Distributed packaging models can also improve sustainability within the delivery process by eliminating a number of packaging steps in the supply chain. The raw product is sent directly from the manufacturer in bulk to the fulfilment centre, and then repackaged into its inner carton before being put away. This allows brands to reduce waste, but also save money from the initial shipping to the fulfilment centre, ensuring the product arrives with the customer in the best condition possible.

Fast fashion means fast delivery

With as many as six in ten (64 per cent) of online shoppers saying they would stop using an online retailer after a maximum of three bad experiences – it is essential for retailers to ensure that orders are processed correctly and delivered on time. For online brands to be able to compete in today’s increasingly fast-paced and ‘disposable’ fashion retail landscape, the entire fulfilment process must work like clockwork. To meet basic expectations, retailers currently need to get products to customers within a two-day delivery cycle. As the fast fashion trend continues to grow, this delivery window will narrow even further – leaving absolutely no room for error.

Here, cloud-based order fulfilment picking solutions will also prove increasingly valuable. This is because flexible order picking solutions can be easily integrated within existing systems and can help increase distribution efficiency, by not only speeding up the picking process, but increasing picking accuracy.

Under pressure

Increased orders require more man hours to process, and this can put added pressure on an already strained workforce. For brands with limited facilities and staffing, partnering with distribution providers is often a cost-efficient way of keeping up with the latest customer delivery expectations.

Alternatively, the use of robotics and automation to cover routine and repetitive tasks is becoming increasingly popular and effective. These robotic processes have the potential to go beyond picking and packaging within a warehouse – they can handle and simplify returns processing and even automate cycle counting for inventory accuracy.

Online retailers which adopt flexible and automated technologies across the supply chain – from the initial order, to picking, packing and shipping – will be best placed to keep up with growing customer demands. Those who don’t risk become ‘disposable’ themselves.

By Joe Farrell, VP of international operations, PFS

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