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EDITORIAL How logistical issues are forcing a tech and retail rethink

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Unless you are very lucky, you have probably been impacted in some way both professionally and personally by the UK’s supply chain problems. Really this is a question of logistics – not enough lorry drivers to move stuff around and red-tape and tariffs impacting imports – but the upshot has been the same: a rising concern that things may be getting tough.

However, necessity is the mother of invention and the situation is forcing many growing retailers to take a look at how technology and new tactics can help.

Even with more sales than ever taking place online, retailers that have bricks and mortar outlets are still putting their stores first – albeit in tying them in with technology to better drive click and collect and distribution. Three-quarters of retailers see their physical stores as now vital to both online distribution and experiential selling.

This is certainly part of what has driven sustainable fashion brand Aqua & Rock to launch a flagship store in Covent Garden, both for experiential selling and to help with its online supply.

Supply chain management, using technology, is also highlighted this week by Jim Mann, Director of Acquisitions for UK of Thrasio, one of the fastest-growing acquirers of Amazon third-party FBA brands. He stresses that we face an unusually complex set of circumstances – Covid, Brexit and changing shopping habits all happening at once – and that the only way to remain agile enough to handle these changes is to leverage technology.

This is playing out with a number of retailers looking to new ways to operate to not only counter as best they can the supply chain issues, but to drive growth in the all-important run up to Christmas.

Swiss luxury watch maker Breitling has replatformed to go headless and has revamped its order management system (OMS) to be ready to build on the explosion of sales it saw in the last peak season at the end of 2020.

Irish footwear company Dubarry – maker of the famed Galway Boot – is also looking to use replatforming to drive growth, in this case consolidating its payments platform to better handle payments from around the world as it looks to continue its international expansion.

The problems with supply chains, along with the increasing use of technology to meet consumers changing habits has also started to drive more retailers to look at offering subscription services.

Card sending service TouchNote, for instance, is offering to let users pay a monthly fee for a fairly hefty quota of cards that can be sent. At the other end of the scale, canned fish seller Fish4Ever is offering shoppers a subscription service to buy tinned fish. One assumes that there is a market for canned fish – maybe as a gift to go with one of TouchNote’s cards?

Combining this subscription model with running a marketplace and helping the planet, thelittleloop – an innovative site that rents out used kids clothes to a paying membership – has teamed up with sustainable childrenswear brand Frugi to offer subscription to an online ‘shared wardrobe’. The idea is that, as kids grow out of their clothes so quickly they are often not fit for purpose, yet essentially in mint condition, they can be rented out to other users.

This novel idea taps into all the above trends and looks to have created a whole new paradigm in apparel ‘consumption’; one that can be translated, I believe, into any sector of the fashion retail market and perhaps even beyond. This not only tempers consumer impact on the environment, but also starts to erode total reliance on retail supplies, the consumers themselves being the suppliers. This model has much to offer.

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