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Fashion businesses are desperately trying to replace the spreadsheet based solutions they built across their product management and production processes. No wonder.

Spreadsheets have been the ‘go to’ data management solution for fashion businesses for years. But as operations and regulations become increasingly complex, forward-thinking organisations are beginning to turn to more efficient cloud-based tools.

Excel was first launched way back in 1987, and over the past 30+ years, it’s become one of the most widely used spreadsheet tools in the world. And for good reason.

Excel is great at what it does, as are Google sheets and similar tools. Unfortunately, they are not so great at what they were not made to do.

Tools like Excel were never designed with the fashion industry in mind. Such a niche and intricate industry comes with a range of niche needs, from the effective handling of complex product information to lists of sales orders. From detailed production plans to records of hit – or missed – milestones. It’s beyond the scope of what spreadsheets can do.

Today, we’re seeing many fashion businesses struggling with data management.

Small startups began using spreadsheets for key data storage and manipulation as it was the easy, natural choice. And for a while, these spreadsheets ticked all the right boxes. But now, as these businesses are growing, developing, and scaling up, they’re beginning to become frustrated with the digital tools they once loved.

As McKinsey notes in its 2021 Revamping Fashion Sourcing report, ‘keeping up “manually” – with Excel and email – is no longer an option’. Spreadsheet ‘solutions’ are just too frustrating when you run a complex business.

Common Excel Frustrations within Fashion Teams

As the fashion industry continues to evolve, it’s clear that the needs of businesses operating within the sector are expanding far beyond the scope of even the best spreadsheet tools. This is resulting in an increasing number of frustrations that are being experienced across many organisations. Common frustrations include…

  • Errors

At a time when fashion businesses are handling more data than ever before – and more complex data, too – errors are becoming a much more common occurrence. When data cannot be shared between systems, businesses are having to rely heavily on rekeying, heightening the risk. Research suggests that almost 90% of spreadsheets contain errors, significantly reducing the accuracy of the information.

  • Duplicate Data

When using spreadsheets that don’t integrate with other business systems, there is a high risk of creating duplicate data within each system. To combat this, there needs to be flawless communication and collaboration between colleagues, who work together to ensure they are not inputting multiple instances of the same information. However, with workloads becoming greater, this isn’t always going to be possible.

  • Outdated Information

In fashion, things change quickly. Including your data. With spreadsheets that require manual input, data is never 100% up to date. By the time a user has inputted the information, it’s already irrelevant. No one is working with real time data. Suppliers don’t know what the latest situation is. Customers don’t know what’s in stock. Shipping and packing list information are only as good as their last update.

  • Time & Effort

Managing and updating spreadsheets manually takes time. And lots of it. There has to be significant manual intervention to keep things ticking over, with a huge amount of time and effort pulling information together from various colleagues, sheets, and systems. Ultimately, it’s a waste of your valuable talent; talent that could be used for more profitable tasks such as innovation and process improvement.

  • Poor Traceability

When changes have occurred in a spreadsheet, it’s not always possible to trace these changes back to the user that made them. This can make it challenging to understand why the changes have been made. It can also result in the development of poor internal processes, as if changes have been made in error, it is difficult to identify the user or users that may require additional training or support.

  • Formatting

When spreadsheet data is required by other departments, using different company systems, this data won’t always be export ready. It can often require significant editing and ‘cleaning’ to transform it into a format that can be shared with other tools. This can result in a huge amount of additional work for employees, who may begin to feel overwhelmed, and might be at higher risk of experiencing burnout.

  • Unsatisfactory Customer/Supplier Experiences

It’s critical for the future of your valuable relationships that your customers and your suppliers have positive experiences with your brand. But that becomes difficult when they need to ask for order updates, or ask for information and instructions, rather than having the information they need, right at their fingertips, right when they need it. Real time data is a crucial element facilitating strong, loyal, lasting relationships.

  • Lack of Visibility

Perhaps the biggest frustration of using spreadsheets in fashion is that they don’t allow for full visibility over your entire operation. And when there’s a lack of visibility, it’s not always easy to make smart, valuable, quick-fire, data driven decisions for the future of the organisation. Grabbing opportunities in this fast-paced industry means being able to make decisions rapidly. And without full visibility, that’s impossible.

Exploring Solutions

Excel is a fantastic spreadsheet tool. Without a doubt. But it’s time to focus less on what a tool can do, and place greater focus on what businesses need to run an efficient operation. When we approach the situation from this angle, it’s easy to see that the needs of fashion businesses don’t always align with the capabilities of Excel.

So… what’s the solution?

Today’s fashion organisations should be looking to shift to cloud-based systems that are designed to tackle the complex challenges that arise within this niche industry, and which ‘talk’ to each other to ensure every system contains the same data.

Options include…

  • WFX, which is one of the most capable PLM systems in the fashion world
  • for highly sophisticated B2B sales management
  • Katana for detailed planning, purchasing, and production management

Each of these tools feeds back into popular financial systems such as Xero, Quikbooks, NetSuite, and Microsoft Dynamics, for a fully integrated network.

We work closely with many known and rapidly growing fashion businesses to help them identify, evaluate, and select the best digital solutions for their needs.

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