Fast fashion at your fingertips

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Fast fashion at your fingertips

“ABOF keeps the customer in the centre of all decisions it takes. We continue to innovate on customer experience & merchandise. This is an ongoing process as we believe that is the only way to create a differentiated proposition,” remarks Sukanta Das, Chief Operations Officer, ABOF(all about fashion), an Aditya Birla Online Fashion company. Right from its inception, this e-commerce company has been offering something extraordinary and out-of-the-box proposition to its customers be it enhanced user experience or the recently launched alteration @ home service. It’s always positioning to be on top of the game with its USPs. Here’s a rundown of the exclusive interaction with Das on what it takes to win customers’ trust in such a crowded category…

You have seen the India retail revolution and fashion retail revolutions from supply chain angle. How would you describe the transformation over the years?

Today, the consumer has become even more demanding. Earlier it took about a year for a trend to travel and peak in India but courtesy the Internet and social media revolution, the consumer is constantly updated on what’s trending globally and they want it instantly. To match the expectation, we at ABOF do not have the traditional Spring Summer Autumn Winter, 4 drops a year calendar. Instead, we do 12 refreshes a year. Every month has a new fashion update. The back-end supply chain system also has evolved to become a far more agile and just in time responsive system to ensure we stay on top of trends. For the new age fast fashion brands and labels, the concept forecasting to the delivery calendar has moved to faster and leaner 6 months versus the traditional 13 months fulfilment cycle.

In fashion retail, it’s always the first-mover advantage. How do you keep that momentum going while launching newer editions?

ABOF has a strong buying & merchandising team that is constantly researching fads and trend-spotting. Basis the same, they come up with a trendy new collection every month. The key here is the robust system that we have been able to put in place which allows for speed and significantly reduced lead times in identifying a product and making it live on the site for our customers.

For an e-commerce platform, it’s all about offering customers a distinct shopping experience. How is ABOF intending to do so?

This is all about being customer-centric. ABOF keeps the customer in the centre of all decisions it takes. We continue to innovate on customer experience & merchandise. We use technology extensively to provide best in class online shopping experience to customers. This is an ongoing process as we believe that is the only way to create a differentiated proposition.

From a product standpoint, some true differentiators are –

  • One-touch exchange
  • Free at Home Alteration, 1st of its kind in industry and India
  • Fastest e-commerce website in load time (1.8 seconds). It led to a great user experience to the millennial and improved conversion rate of the website by over 60%
  • High-resolution graphics for a clear understanding of fabric
  • Virtual dressing rooms and 360° viewing - Customers can key in their vital measurements to find the right fit
  • AISHA - fully automated AI-based fashion styling advisor chat-bot
  • Zoom tools – Provides a closer look at all focused areas
From supply chain standpoint:

  • Own inventory model ensures proper quality check and same or next day dispatch from warehouse
  • Fastest delivery TAT in industry
  • One-touch exchange
  • Fastest reverse pick up and refund in 24 hours from pick up time
  • At Home Alteration, 1st of its kind in industry and India

 From a customer service standpoint:

  • Any customer issue is taken up on the highest priority and resolution provided to in the shortest timeframe.
  • Any service of ABOF rated low by the customer is evaluated by CXOs and ensured that no repeat of such issues take place

What’s the role of technology in enabling supply chain at ABOF?

In today’s highly competitive business environment, it is imperative for businesses to innovate new ways to streamline their supply chain and optimize productivity. At ABOF, IBM offers a scalable and seamless order fulfilment platform and innovative customer engagement features. Here are a few examples -

  • With the aid of internet-based software, inventory has been serialized and automated. Tracking has been enabled to capture every physical movement of goods, services
  • Tight API integration with logistics service providers for selecting the best courier, pre-inform shipment, end-2-end digitalized tracking to ensure the reduction of shipping errors significantly and more rapidly respond to the errors that do occur
  • Self-service return and exchange functionalities have been integrated with courier partners with an aim to
  • make value-added services available in a click of a button
  • Minimized data entry and screen interactions in the warehouse by automating processes
  • Real-time view of inventory in movement and at-hand to internal business stakeholders, customers
  • Smart and self-service business intelligence tools to track SLAs of every process in the supply chain.

Further, ABOF continually adapts to emerging technologies to further streamline its supply chain and create an easier, cheaper, and more accurate shipping process, by arresting perennial industry-specific issues like shipping delays, shipping errors, displaying out of stock products.

How crucial has been the supply chain for your business? What are the USPs of your supply chain that makes you stand apart from the rest?

Fashion e-commerce is built on 3 major pillars – 1) great products; 2) outstanding technology platform, and 3) nimble and state-of-the-art order fulfilment organization. Therefore, it is apparent that the nimble and responsive supply chain is the key to success here.

What are the many packaging and supply chain innovations implemented by ABOF?

On the packaging front – ABOF made a significant advancement by setting up packing norm by critically analyzing historical shipment data points. Emphasis has been put to align standard packaging sizes against high running categories. We have standardized weighment process of shipments for alignment in volumetric weight point of view with delivery partners. This has reduced significant manual effort and reinforced trust in the partnership.

Please share with us one of the most challenging projects managed by you at ABOF.

At Home Alteration – Fitment of apparel is an inherent issue that any e-commerce players struggle with. Customers’ experience is incomplete without it! ‘At Home Alteration’ is a service innovation and has enabled ABOF to provide differentiated value-added service to delight customer.

We aim to ensure the alteration of apparel as per customers’ measurements post purchase. Customers have rated the service as ‘great’ more than 70% of the time, with no negative feedbacks so far. The unique aspect is our On-the-spot alteration model (OSA). Most other players follow a different approach, whereby they pick up the garment from the customer, take it back to some factory for alteration and then deliver after a couple of days.

We felt that this is not as convenient as it requires multiple touchpoints. In OSA, a designer will visit the customers’ location and complete the alteration on the spot. We also offer the alternative approach (common amongst other players) of Pick- Alter-Deliver model (PAD). In PAD, after taking customers’ measurements, the apparel will be transported to the facility where the alteration will be done, and then the altered garment would be delivered back to the customer. Post-delivery, feedback is noted by the Customer Service Team and the same is utilized for process improvement. Where OSA is not feasible for lack of infrastructure at the customer’s location, PAD can be availed.

What’s your strategy in place to take the brand growth story ahead as far as the supply chain is concerned?

Going ahead, we would focus on adding new Pin Codes and building further the accuracy of our service for existing as well as prospective customers. Our intent is to develop a complete, and value-added, package of services for all our customers.

You have studied logistics as specialization. How do you think the scenario has transformed for logistics and supply chain professionals from what it was earlier?

In the earlier days, organizations were fixated in the norms dictated by traditions and conventions. Areas other than logistics were perceived to be important. Most of the organizations may have been in an evolutionary state. At that time, educational courses and programs were also not focused on integrated logistics or distribution. They were mainly related to individual activities such as transportation and purchasing. There was little attempt to integrate and balance the activities that were in cost and/or service conflict. Hence, there was not much of an opportunity for professionals or managers to learn about the broader concepts of logistics.

Over the last decade or so, supply chain management emerged with a broader scope. A contemporary view of supply chain management is to think of it as managing a set of processes where a process is a group of activities relevant to achieving a defined objective, such as filling orders. Managers are now more equipped with advanced SCM ERPs, can measure and control business-specific metrics than having to check only generic metrics. This promotes coordination, integration, relationship building, and collaboration throughout the entire value chain and helps to take data-driven decision faster to ensure maximization of ROI.

These days we have great examples of supply chain professional moving up the CEO ladder. What are the qualities of an SCM professional that make him fit to manage a big organization?

Leadership in logistics and supply chain management is the difference between the traditional role of supply chain and distribution—that of being a necessary evil whose job is to just get the shipment out —to becoming an integral part of the management team and the strategic direction of the company. Logistics represents a large investment for most corporations, logistics leaders must take responsibility for that investment, exercise responsible and accountable stewardship, and maximize the ROI on that investment by working both ends of the equation: drive down cost and improve performance and economy. Great leaders maximize ROI by inspiring their organizations to achieve goals.

How do you see the dynamics of e-retailing going ahead?

Going forward, the main aspect of this business would be determining the path to profitability and identifying how one would continue to improve margins. The main thought is to get the business to operate in a manner of profitable and sustainable growth. That will be the main challenge for all the players in this industry.

For India to become a global marketplace, how can supply chain play an enabling role? What all needs to be done to create an exceptional supply chain?

E-commerce is growing rapidly in India, but the e-commerce landscape is hugely variable with sharp divergences between tier I and tier II & III cities. As e-commerce logistics models develop, they will drive significant changes in physical distribution networks. They will give rise to a new class of logistics and distribution properties including mega e-fulfillment centres, parcel hubs and delivery centres, local ‘urban logistics’ depots for rapid order fulfillment, and returns processing centres.

Retailers/e-tailers that wish to gain maximum advantages from these changes and penetrate well in the market need to understand and embrace both the dynamics as well as complexities at play in different supply chains and in different geographies. There is real momentum in this segment of the market and fantastic opportunity to continue to grow successfully provided we get things right and aren't complacent.

Implementation and roll-out of 3G and 4G internet broadband and mobile internet facility took care of the information and communication technology requirements part, however, regulatory and physical infrastructure that supports online purchasing should be further improved. The quality of the logistics infrastructure is highly variable. Typically, the transport infrastructure is more established around and between the major cities than elsewhere. In addition, outside of these markets, the quality of the existing warehouse buildings is relatively poor. All these issues, raise challenges for efficient online order fulfilment beyond the major cities.

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