Some online exchanges claim they still have the answers for supplier collaboration.
The WorldWide Retail Exchange (WWRE), the membership-based online exchange created by retailers to facilitate and simplify trading, has developed a WorldWide Design, Planning & Management (WDP&M) solution to enable retailers to communicate more effectively with their global sources in the development of their private label merchandise. Elisa Kimberly, implementation manager, WWRE, says WDP&M gives apparel users greater flexibility in developing concepts.
WWRE members can keep track of all the components going into a garment, such as print designs from CAD systems. WPD&M also enables the sharing of data between the designer and the vendor. All of this can be done online, says Kimberly. To coordinate this, WWRE is building standards to help its members keep track of and describe the multitude of apparel components, such as different fabric types, buttons or zippers.
Led by retailers such as Target and JCPenney, WDP&M also offers solutions to allow garment vendors to meet online simultaneously to share applications and download files/ images in a highly interactive manner. A global vendor can put a sample garment on a live model in the Far East and transmit this fit session data in video to the U.S. company for pre-production approval, says Kimberly. All this data can be saved in the asset management tool. WDP&M also has a costing tool to help firms conduct landed cost analysis for apparel orders.
WWRE members are mostly retailers, although Campbell Soup recently joined. Members pay a subscription fee and invite suppliers online on a secure basis to log onto the system, according to Maureen Phillips-Hauser, worldwide design planning and management product director at WWRE. She says its members are continuing to push for new ways to simplify, rationalize and automate supply chain processes.
"In two years' time, retailers and suppliers will not be able to imagine how they conducted business before," says Phillips-Hauser.
Two years ago, GlobalNetXchange (GNX), a business-to-business online exchange, embarked on a "big push" to study the demand for and solutions available to solve product development issues for the apparel market. However, at that time, the firm found that its apparel clients' needs were all over the board - and so were product development technologies. Because product development encompasses so many different processes, from management of images to workflow, it would have taken five or six different tools on the market to support "all the things [GNX apparel members] wanted to do," explains Judy Gilbert, vice president of marketing for GNX. "The technology wasn't where it needed to be to solve their problems." Given the results of this market research, GNX did not pursue development of an apparel-specific product development solution to integrate into its portfolio of offerings.
But today, apparel product development is "something we need to look at again," says Gilbert, acknowledging the ongoing evolution of product development tools. Last year, it launched GNX Collaborative Product Development (CPD), a solution tailored to the private label development needs of the grocery sector. Still, Gilbert cautiously stressed that if a successful apparel CPD solution is to be developed by GNX, it will require commitment among interested GNX apparel members to "share the blood, sweat and tears" of the development process.