The infrastructure of any industry is based as much on technical support system as it is on human resource.
The expanding world of flawless machines and superior software programmes has made it mandatory for industries to adapt to technology to communicate with customers, find prospective consumers, understand market requirements, keep an inventory and many other aspects.
What was once a Herculean task, either ignored or done manually, was prone to error. Now, it is easily done with information technology. This has brought with it operational efficiency, stronger customer loyalty, better security and higher profitability in the technologically advanced textile and apparel industry.
IT leads the way
Information technology (IT) has touched every aspect of the textile and apparel sector. It is required at every step from yarn production to finished product. One of the reasons of increased dependency on IT is the changing demographics and pace of growth in the fast-paced market environment in the Asian subcontinent. The average age of the population likely to splurge on clothes has decreased considerably. Earlier, teenagers and office goers conveniently ignored attire or spent very little on the same. Today, there is increased awareness among teenagers and professionals that apart from style statements, clothes also symbolise purchasing power.
The young and working population relies on social media to look out for best deals and latest fads. Most textile and apparel brands have their own websites and profile pages on popular networking sites. The role of IT is important here, as creating impressive web portals and checking online hits are crucial. The trend of online shopping is also catching up all over the world. One recent example of IT failure was when online shopping site Flipkart hosted a sale in 2014 and the site crashed following heavy traffic. Many customers were dissatisfied with the service, as some did not get the order confirmation after making payment and some did not see items they had added to their shopping cart. On the other hand, Amazon's online sale garnered rave reviews for its faultless operation.
The younger population relies heavily on a spectrum of digital platforms to know about trends, write reviews, or compare prices. With median age going young, reflected from China's 35.8 years and India's 29 years, around 35 per cent of consumers rely on recommendations from social networks, according to Mckinseyonmarketingandsales.com. It becomes mandatory for shopping sites and apparel brand websites to recruit strong IT teams that can ensure ease of shopping for consumers.
IT also helps the textile and apparel sector become more organised, an edge over the struggle of stores to maintain a balance between demand and supply a decade or two back. With the help of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) along with Point-of-Sale retail automation like barcode, payment terminals etc, these processes speed up the trade assessment easily. IT helps maintain electronic surveillance and provides inventory management automation options. It is also easier to develop designs for prospective clients and manage human resource, thanks to IT. The textile and apparel firms that have employed RFID have almost eliminated problems like product sizes or patterns getting out of stock or stock piling up. This thrift has translated into substantial increase in profits.
A piece of tech for brands
Technology has also influenced brands to make changes in stores for better customer experience. A fast fashion brand --- Neo by Adidas --- has made changes in many of its European concept stores that now have interactive mirrors. These digital interactions are becoming part of customers' day to day experience. Through these mirrors, customers can take a picture while trying a piece of clothing and post it to social networking sites for swift feedback from their friends before actually purchasing it. The Puma store in Harajuku, Japan has also invested in interactive mirrors.
"Retailers today have to work so hard to get people into the store. [The interactive mirror] provides a way to keep them there and move them from one department to the next," said Mirrus founder and CEO Brian Reid, whose company is marketing full-length and countertop mirrors since 2010.
Virtual fitting helps consumers check out the look they want to try without actually trying the clothes. It is a trend that is gradually gaining popularity. Stores are also installing virtual greeter videos that are updated with the help of wireless internet connections to deliver any message. It is an interactive tech tool where the ultimate aim is involvement of customers to encourage customers to buy a product. The virtual greeter shares lots of information with customers and divulges details regarding things the store offers.
According to Dale Gillis, co-owner of Mooresville, NC-based Marketing Ad Group, which began promoting the virtual greeter in 2011, "You might have to pay someone US$ 10 an hour to be a greeter, while this costs just US$ 2 to US$ 3 an hour, based on the monthly leasing cost."
Nevertheless, use of IT in textile and apparel differs from country to country. Factors such as exposure to technology and age of prospective customers drive IT use.
Brands that use latest technologies like computer aided designing and computer aided manufacturing have managed to win the trust of the international customer. The IT department helps a company ahead of the competition by enabling it to analyse changing trends of the market. In the developed world where prospective customers include age groups between 50 and 55 years, use of technology such as smartphones and interactive mirrors continue to attract people. Software like MRP, MRP-II and APSS in developed nations support planning and execution of operations by establishing effective coordination between various departments.
In young countries like India, youngsters have just started experiencing perks of e-shopping. Retailers and online portals are thus focusing on enhancing customer experience through a strong IT base. Urbanisation in India and China is more rapid now, following which use of technology has become more common.
Some designers still hesitate to use web portals to promote their designs, as apparel counterfeit market and infringement of intellectual property are on rise. In spite of this, IT has assisted the textile and apparel sector to become more organised and the chances of human error have been reduced considerably. Massive stores like American Apparel, Wal-Mart, etc are perfect candidates for RFID, as maintaining inventory accuracy is a priority for these stores. Increased profitability and stronger customer trust are significant to industry's survival and fortunately with the help of information these goals are much realistic to achieve. Even if the requirement and usage of IT differs around the world, the textile and apparel sector cannot really do without information technology anymore.