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Digitisation, nearshoring and reducing the number of options in stock have helped clothing, footwear and accessories brands cut lead times by almost half in the last two years, according to industry experts.

Figures from Unleashed’s Product Lead Time Index show the sector managed to slash its delivery lead times – from the purchase of an order to when it hits the warehouse – by 49.86% since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

“Apparel brands have achieved shorter lead times through a number of ways, like digitisation (e.g. virtual sampling) and nearshoring, as well as reducing the number of options they stock and shifting towards a demand-driven buying process,” Chloe Collins, head of apparel for GlobalData tells Just Style exclusively.

“Rapidly changing trends as a result of Covid led to heavy markdowns, so brands are now trying to reduce risk by moving away from heavy initial buys on stock they don’t know will sell. Now with the cost-of-living crisis, brands will continue acting cautiously and being more careful with their orders as they assess what impact inflation has on the industry.”

Other industries, including food (56.14%), electronics and telecommunications (54.9%), health, medical supplies and equipment (53.71%), and office equipment and supplies (51.73%), also managed to cut their lead times substantially.

Many manufacturers and logistics firms stepped up their digital strategies in response to the crisis.

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By GlobalData

Stephen Jones, head of UK & EMEA at Unleashed, said: “Global supply chains are complex, and while the market has been more uncertain than usual, our data suggests that suppliers are working hard to build resilience. In fact, for many, the crises have only strengthened their resolve. Given how much lead times have dropped in some sub-sectors, their efforts are clearly paying off.

“Keeping a tight rein on inventory is essential at any time but particularly during periods of disruption. When product lead times are fluctuating, the right technology can quickly show you the actual vs expected lead times which allows you to manage customer expectations, or look for alternative suppliers who can deliver faster.”

Jordan Westley, ecommerce and order management system (OMS) expert at Mintsoft, added: “As well as keeping a tight rein on inventory, it’s just as important to ensure that warehouse operatives are picking, packing, and shipping orders as accurately and efficiently as possible.

“It’s impossible to express the importance of fulfilment and the overall effect it has on customer experience. With such a large shift to online shopping because of the pandemic, customer expectation has exploded and this is where keeping these delivery lead time figures to a minimum is key. Customers take for granted the effort that goes into fulfilling an order and unfortunately, is only really noticed when their delivery is delayed or contains the wrong item(s).”