The rate of change has never been greater — or faster — for the footwear industry, with new challenges popping up every day in nearly all corners of the business, from navigating cash crunches and supply chain issues to understanding the latest technological advances. In its new “Ask An Expert” series, FN will ask industry leaders — all solutions-based providers — to take on some of the most timely topics.
The shift to e-commerce and digital selling has encouraged footwear businesses to transfer all their data management online. But most technology solutions are designed with a “one size fits all” approach, despite the many nuances and variations found within footwear product. Businesses that can find or establish a technology soIution that caters specifically to their market will save time and money in the long run.
Joseph DiNardo, co-founder and COO of e-commerce data management platform Syndic8, spoke to FN about how footwear companies can find their perfect software fit.
FN: How can data management software help improve operations?
Joseph DiNardo: Typically, the goal of software is to reduce or replace manual, error-prone processes, freeing up staff to work on more meaningful tasks that add value to the company. Footwear brands tend to fill technical gaps with operational overhead — staff manually correct or add information where a system is incapable of doing so automatically. This is okay — and even expected — at a small scale.
Where companies struggle is during periods of expansion. Correcting information for a handful of channels may be manageable, but as the business expands, operational limitations prevent the company from executing the sales strategy with speed and agility. This is the point when a firm has outgrown its technology and should re-evaluate its options.
FN: How can companies optimize or tweak their existing software, to better suit their individual needs?
JD: We’ve helped a number of companies make the leap from manual export/import to API-based connectivity. Many folks aren’t aware of the options available in their existing software solutions, like that their Magento instance supports that kind of connectivity, or that Shopify has an app store. Sometimes an awareness gap arises from shortcuts taken during the initial configuration, and more often we see that features have come available since the last in-depth review. Brands typically have small IT departments and so appreciate engaging with industry experts, who have breadth and depth of knowledge in software solutions.
We have also suggested a restructuring of data on numerous occasions, to better suit the needs of the business based on the capabilities and limitations of current software.
FN: When assessing data management solutions, what are the most relevant factors for footwear companies to consider?
JD: Many clients have told us of failed attempts to implement software, due to inherent incompatibilities with the nuances of footwear and apparel. Footwear is one of the most complex product types we’ve seen — that’s a big part of why we used it as our model when designing e-commerce software. We often see styles with 100+ variants, which exceeds the limitation of many platforms. Choosing a tool that’s properly designed to address these complexities is critically important. We also see implementations lose steam due to unexpectedly long onboarding — an unfortunate by-product of the self-service model. We always recommend partnering with a solution provider who offers hands-on support and quick turnarounds for feature requests. No software solution is perfect, and the ability to tailor and customize quickly can make all the difference.
FN: If a footwear company comes to you and says they have no idea how to efficiently manage their data, what is the first action you suggest they take?
JD: A thorough assessment is a great place to start. We often find that companies underestimate how many systems and manual processes they use to manage their e-commerce chain. Even a simple flow diagram can help identify bottlenecks or possible areas of simplification and optimization. Post-assessment, our first focus is centralization: the goal of every organization should be to have one golden source of quality data for product, inventory, pricing and sales data. The key word here is quality, and that’s why we’ve spent countless hours with brands automating data correction and data enrichment rules directly into our platform.
FN: What immediate steps can footwear companies take that will have a big impact in the coming months?
JD: Planning ahead is critical. A lot of footwear companies are swamped with reflexive reactions from today’s market: reduced forecasts, cancelled orders, etc. The smartest companies we’ve worked with have been thoughtful about moving existing inventory and, more importantly, planning for the rebound.
We know that footwear as an industry is shifting from brick-and-mortar sales to digital, and the current economic climate is accelerating the change. Brands should be asking themselves the tough question: “Can our infrastructure support a predominantly online sales model?’ Now is the time to assess software gaps and determine what solutions are necessary to support the next 3-5 years of online growth.