3 Operational Challenges Only Apparel Retailers will Understand

photo-1416339698674-4f118dd3388bWhen it comes to apparel retailers, the software being used to run both the front-end and the back-end of a store should cater to three different ‘users’: the upper management, the store and warehouse employees, and the customers.


Although it’s usually the upper management involved in initiating the search for a new, better software solution when a retail chain starts to outgrow its roots, the store employees are often the ones best positioned to understand the pain points for both the day-to-day use of the cashier and manager users as well as the things that are causing friction or frustration for the customers themselves.


Here are three major pain points commonly encountered by workers in the fashion and apparel retail industry when they’ve outgrown their current point of sale and inventory management solution.



Inventory can be the bane of your store managers’ existence


Managing your inventory using less-than-perfect software is often the number one pain point for clothing retailers. If the system isn’t designed for fashion retail and the niche aspects of inventory management it requires, it makes a large part of your employees’ job a nightmare – that’s why all three of these example issues are linked to inventory.



Poor functionality when it comes to thefts or defects


One frustrating road block for your employees can be an inability in your system to register or to distinguish between items that were written off due to damage or defect and items that were stolen. Because of the fast pace and importance of inventory space in fashion retail, by the time an inventory audit rolls around, the deficit can be immense and there’s no record in the system of what happened, and the written off items have already been removed from the store. When recall or inventory counts do happen and suddenly you have to report that you’re missing a significant amount of items that the system claimed you had, it looks bad on the employees and impacts the store’s numbers and head office’s ability to do analytics.



No ability to track in the system when the item is on hold


It may seem like a small functionality to lack, but item hold tracking for clothing retailers is important to both customer service and inter-store communication. The vast majority of multi-location fashion retailers have a system that allows a person in one store to check what’s in stock at another – this allows them to request transfers of items they’re short on, or to direct a customer to the store they can go to in order to find a specific item.


What happens when the system has no way of flagging that inventory is on hold, however, means that if you only have one item left at your store and it’s on hold, the system still tells other stores that you have that item available. This can cause tension and miscommunication between the stores themselves, which has a negative impact on productivity and smooth cooperation, but worse still can lead to situations where a customer, already less than happy that the first store they went to didn’t have the item they wanted in stock, travels all the way to a new location only to be told the item they wanted isn’t actually available. This one small missing feature is extremely important for fashion retail staff to have access to – without it, it’s only a matter of time before it results in bad blood between store employees and bad experiences for your customers.



The added complexity of jewelry and accessories


The issues of theft, write offs, and holds is only compounded by another common issue: a lack of proper jewelry inventory listing. Working with a generic or outdated system often means that store employees are making do with software that doesn’t treat products differently, and uses the same product profile for jewelry and accessories that it does for garments. This lack of flexibility and customization just adds to the problem of efficient inventory management. For retailers that stock both clothing and accessories, they find that proportionally speaking the number of jewelry they have to write off due to damage or defect far outnumbers other products.


If there’s no way of letting the system know when something breaks, it just looks to executive managers like there’s a large amount of theft happening at their stores. One option is to keep every piece of jewelry that breaks and attempt to fix it during inventory time, but that becomes a question of managing large quantities of broken, unsellable merchandise that accumulates naturally over the regular day to day of being a fashion retailer, and can be an ultimately unprofitable use of your employees’ time.



Are these things that impact my clothing retail business?


If these pain points sound like familiar complaints from those of your employees that are on the front lines, stop and pay attention; they’re symptoms of a problem that are impacting your entire fashion retail chain. If you’re not sure whether these might be issues you have in your stores, it may be time to touch base with your store managers and find out what kind of wishlists they have for the software that they work with every day, and what feedback they might have on how to improve the customer experience. It never hurts to pay attention to what your employees feel would make their jobs easier – those pain points are likely hurting your profits just as much as they’re hurting your employees’ productivity and your customers’ experiences.