Guide: How to Crack the Challenges of Fashion Intralogistics

With the help of modern technologies such as data analytics, open platform software, and sophisticated material handling systems – coupled with the right experience and expertise of a systems integrator – fashion fulfilment centres can come a long way in optimising their intralogistics operations. Here's how.


The surge in e-commerce, dealing with omnichannel customers and finding workable solutions to manage returns are all challenges fashion fulfilment and distribution centres face. Designing new logistics operations to meet these challenges is both difficult and costly, so we’ve come up with this guide on how to manage common issues.

This guide covers:

  1. Automation: How to maximise the return on investments
  2. Future-proofing with non-proprietary software
  3. How to manage both B2B and B2C customers
  4. How to deal with the deluge of returns created by e-commerce
  5. What to look for when investing in improvements 

Automation: How to maximise the return on your investments

Investing in automation tools and technology is expensive. It’s essential then that fashion distribution facilities work out how to secure long-lasting automation solutions to save money in the end. Here’s three things we suggest you do.

1. Expose concepts to future scenarios

Investing in technology without first mapping your business needs puts you at risk of ending up with a solution that doesn’t work in the long run. Instead, you should run sensitivity tests and simulations of potential scenarios first to see if your plans for automation are sound.

2. Map your business processes before automating

You need to consider your operations and figure out where problems are arising. Is it a matter of speed, resources, expenses, storage or managing returns? After mapping your system, you’ll be able to select which parts of your operation would add value if automated.

3. Develop partnerships with system integrators

Partner with a systems integrator with expertise in systems design and automated processes. An integrator can identify which processes you need to automate. It will also know the potential of your current technology and how you can prepare for future integrations.

Learn more: “How to future-proof your fulfilment or distribution centre with automation”.

Key takeaways

  • Expose your concepts: Taking time and money to do sensitivity analyses and simulations pays in the long run.
  • Map your business processes: Work out where the problems lie and where automation could add value to your operation.
  • Get outside expertise: A systems integrator can identify gaps in your operations and can prepare for future technological integrations.

Future-proofing with non-proprietary software

It’s difficult for fashion operators to prepare for logistics of the future. Working with open platform software and designing for new integrations will help minimise the effects of incompatible technological developments.

The benefits of open platform technology

Open platform technology is open-ended and able to connect with other interfaces – the more open the infrastructure, the easier it is to attach other systems to your warehouse control system (WCS). Open platform software helps prevent your WCS from becoming obsolete or unable to function.

Integrating legacy automated systems

The flexibility of open platform software means you can update your legacy system bit by bit and avoid disrupting the performance of your older components. You can make changes progressively and test their functionality before making further changes.

Gain insights through data analytics

With open platform software, you are able to use software applications, data analytics and machine learning tools to test the effectiveness of your system. A specialised, skilled system integrator is often needed, however, to understand the data structure and the benefits to be gained from it.

Learn more about the integration possibilities and benefits of open software for fashion fulfilment.

Key takeaways

  • Benefits of open platform software: It connects with other interfaces to avoid becoming obsolete or unusable.
  • Updating legacy systems: Its modular structure lets you update older systems progressively.
  • The potential of data analytics: Your WCS can collect data which can be used to reveal your facility’s performance and efficiency.

Managing both B2B and B2C customers

The surge in e-commerce has driven many more B2C customers to fashion distribution and fulfilment centres. If you are used to operating cost-effective facilities for just your B2B customers, how can you now successfully run omnichannel operations?

Direct to consumer fulfilment issues

Dealing with B2C customers involves overcoming a number of issues:

  • Handling extensive numbers of e-shoppers ordering just one or two items;
  • Doing the job of the retailer within your facility;
  • Finding the space to cope with the volumes; and
  • Carrying current season stock that’s no longer moved into shops.

Approaches to B2B and B2C fulfilment

There are different ways you can manage omnichannel fulfilment as a fashion intralogistics operator. You can operate separate facilities or separate areas for your B2C and B2C production. Or, you can merge the two types of fulfilment and split the operations only at the point of outbound fulfilment.

Strategies for handling omnichannel customers

Whether integrated omnichannel fulfilment is the right answer will be different for every fashion logistics facility. You need to consider your current structure, process and space. Think about your budget, ROI and resources, as setups adaptable to both B2B and B2C are expensive.

Handling B2B and B2C simultaneously

Technologies such as pouch sorter systems, automated guided vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence can help you cope with increased B2C orders. But you should first assess the key factors mentioned above with the help of an expert systems integrator.

Related: “How fashion fulfilment centres can structure their systems for both B2B and B2C”

Key takeaways

  • B2C fulfilment is challenging: Fulfilment orders are unpredictable, tend to come in individual units and require more space.
  • Ways to approach omnichannel fulfilment: You can manage your B2B and B2C separately or simultaneously but there are factors to consider.
  • Factors to consider: Look at your existing structures, budget, ROI and resources.
  • Unifying B2B and B2C: New technologies, such as the pouch system, are available; a system integrator can help determine the best solution.

Dealing with increasing numbers of returns

Increased online shopping behaviour of consumers has created a deluge of returned items that are costing fashion operators revenue. But it’s possible to modify your processes to make reverse logistics more manageable, if not profitable.

How returns are a ‘pain point’

The greatest number of returned items are in fashion items and this is challenging for several reasons: you spend a third of your operations on returns; you’re unable to plan resources; your handling costs are higher; and you have space issues.

The nature of reverse logistics

There are two sorts of returns in fashion logistics: the returns coming straight from the customer or straight from the customer via the store; and the end of season items the store returns. Either way, the returns process is labour intensive and is very pricey.

Sortation systems can soften the blow

With an automated sortation system, however, you can:

  • Save space;
  • Process large quantities of items;
  • Read return-label details for pre-sorting purposes;
  • Automate the item quality control;
  • Cope with wider types of items;
  • Provide softer handling of items;
  • Provide temporary storage space; and
  • Use data analytics to improve the process.

Recover money in returns

By using an automated sortation system, you can actually leverage your returns. The system’s so accurate that following the first sortation, it’s able to perform a second or third-tier sortation into SKU master packs or gaylords, which you can then on-sell to a fashion reseller.

In-depth look at the challenges of reverse logistics in fashion e-commerce.

Key takeaways

  • The problem with returns: Returned items are costly and therefore justify greater attention.
  • The nature of reverse logistics: It’s not just items returned by the customer but also the out-of-season items or overstock that stores are now returning.
  • The benefits of sortation systems: Automated sortation can drive down the need for intensive manual labour.
  • Potential of generating profit: An automated sortation system’s accuracy can be leveraged to make returns profitable.

What to look for when investing in improvements

In navigating the challenges in fashion intralogistics, it’s difficult to know which technologies to put your capital into. When it comes to refining your automated material handling processes, however, here’s what you should consider:

Work with a systems integrator to improve your intralogistics

To improve upon your already automated system, source a suitable system integrator. You will gain a long-lasting partner that can help you with concept development. You will also be able to perform gradual system changes in a controlled environment.

Read more: “Understanding investments in fashion fulfilment centres”

Key takeaways

  • Improving automated systems: It’s not as easy as transforming traditional, manual systems; their advanced software requires skills.
  • Where to start? Think conceptually, work with possible scenarios and use sensitivity analyses and simulations.
  • Budget for system changes: Automated systems change constantly, so set aside a budget for system modifications.
  • Form a working partnership: A system integrator can help with concept development and oversee incremental changes in controlled environments.


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