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Backend digitalisation is a must for fashion to embrace the digital age


The fashion industry has been through a turbulent journey as retailers and brands have sought to respond to changing consumer expectations, while trying to identify a business model that works for the digital age. Bricks-and-mortar companies have sought an online presence to survive and online-only players have realised customer acquisition costs are much higher without the scale of a high street store. Omnichannel is the winning combination, but it needs a savvy approach to digitalisation.

While consumer-facing innovation has enabled brands and retailers to embrace digitalisation at the frontend of their business, they have largely overlooked it at the backend, with basic tools like Excel spreadsheets predominantly used by business-to-business (B2B) wholesale teams. By focusing almost entirely on consumer-facing digital transformation, the irony is that the end-customer experience has in fact suffered. When the backend is not efficient, customers can’t buy the right products because information isn’t where it needs to be.

The selling floor is decided much earlier, and much more upstream, when buyers and sellers meet at market weeks, fashion events and trade shows. As the biggest impetus for change since Amazon popularised online shopping, coronavirus is now forcing the B2B wholesale side to recognise they too must innovate and digitalise, led by tech platforms such as JOOR.

“The fashion commerce industry has evolved pretty slowly,” says Kristin Savilia, chief executive of JOOR, a leading advanced digital retail platform. “It took the rise of Amazon for retailers to realise they needed to make things simpler and that has really consumed the industry ever since. Fashion responded with ecommerce sites and by digitalising the frontend, with great consumer-facing innovations like magic mirrors, personalisation and drop shipping. Now, it has taken a pandemic for them to realise they can’t keep running the backend with spreadsheets.”

JOOR provides virtual showrooms that run independent of the buying calendar and facilitate 24/7 wholesale shopping from anywhere in the world. The platform enables brands and retailers to manage their entire wholesale business online so they can view linesheets, place and manage orders, schedule virtual appointments, and optimise performance and growth through data insights.

The company works with more than 8,600 brands in 55 categories and over 200,000 curated retailers in 144 countries. Three quarters of global luxury brands use JOOR to conduct their wholesale business, with the platform currently facilitating an average monthly gross merchandise volume, or GMV, of more than $1.5 billion.

Launched earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, JOOR Passport centralises the trade-show and fashion-week experience by digitalising interactions between brands and retailers. This enables a year-round marketplace where retailers can discover new styles and designers, and brands generate more connections. JOOR is the first platform to have hosted virtual fashion events, attracting more than 100,000 visitors so far and buyers from retailers including Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Net-a-Porter, Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, Shopbop and thousands of boutiques globally.

The virtual events extend the traditional four-day length of a fashion show to a multi-week experience attracting visitors from around the world at any time of the day or night. Brands can see who has attended their virtual booths, favourited them and easily connect, follow up and facilitate orders on the platform. Virtual events supported by JOOR include London Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, Ontimeshow in China, Splash Paris, as well as Bogota and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Istanbul.

We firmly believe virtual showrooms will live on because of the additional content they provide

“We have democratised fashion shows and allowed buyers with a single login to shop the events of the industry,” says Savilia. “It has been transformative. We’re changing the industry for the good and it’s permanent. Physical events will for sure come back, but they will come back different, the way consumers found the winning combination to be, omnichannel with digital there every step of the way to support the physical events.

“The initial push was business continuity. Brands simply needed to digitalise to survive, creating a mad rush. Our demo requests were up 400 per cent. Even though stores were closed and people furloughed, brands were still requesting JOOR, which to me was a positive because it said the industry was not rolling over. They realised they needed to digitalise and JOOR was positioned to deliver.”

Within weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, recognising buyers required more than flat photography to inform their decision-making, JOOR launched 360-degree imaging. Brands quickly adopted it and were soon requesting even further advancements to display the full flow of a garment. A few weeks later, JOOR launched the ability to upload and view style videos, whether a runway video or simply a model moving in the garment. Buyers can now enter an enriched virtual showroom with rich imagery, video and content.

“That all came out of this pandemic,” says Savilia. “When physical showrooms reopen, buyers will undoubtedly return, but we firmly believe virtual showrooms will live on because of the additional content they provide. They extend the reach of a brand, so if buyers can’t fly to a trade show, event or showroom, particularly small and medium-sized businesses or independents with more limited resources, they can still get the full experience. We have 200,000 retailers using JOOR. For them, the ability to log on to a beautiful virtual showroom has been transformative.

“We are breaking records in fashion brand sign-ups. However, more importantly, JOOR as a platform is now beginning to transcend fashion, with brands in other spaces starting to join, including Crestview, a global home decor and furniture brand based out of China, and Hollander, a home textiles brand. This is driving us into other categories because the concept of digitalisation in the backend absolutely needs to happen across the retail landscape. Brands and retailers just can’t continue living on spreadsheets.”

Even when the pandemic is finally over, it’s clear fashion brands, events and retailers will not succeed without a strong digital component at both their front and backend. Whether it’s taking an iPad to a showroom or event, or a complete replacement via the JOOR Passport platform, they need to digitalise to keep up with the pace at which fashion is now moving. Meanwhile, brands and retailers are sure to struggle if they continue to rely on spreadsheets while their competitors are utilising beautiful virtual showrooms.

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