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Guide to Growth: As a small business, how do I cope with fast fashion fulfilment expectations?

Fast fashion has driven a throwaway culture that can also lead to a “buy a load and return most” mindset, and expectations around speed and cost that can be challenging. What is the best way for small businesses to manage this, and can they play a part in re-educating customers to make more careful fashion choices?

Drapers’ Guide to Growth programme is produced in partnership with Clipper.

There are two key parts of a logistics operation: outbound and returns. For smaller brands to be able to cope with the speed expected of them, taking a “shared services” approach might be best.

Peter Louden, business solutions director at Clipper, says: “What small businesses are trying to do is compete with the big boys, but without their purchasing power. That’s a tough challenge.

“One way to do it is make yourself part of something else. Global Freight Solutions, for instance, aggregates its carrier purchasing. Becoming part of established eco-systems is a useful way to do it.”

Sizing is something you can do a lot about because you can contextualise your products compared with other retailers

Peter Louden, business solutions director at Clipper

The other thing to do, Louden notes, is to look at your competitors and how their solutions are devised: “You can ask around, and look at third-party logistics providers. Most of them are proud of the work they do and don’t keep it a secret any more. Mystery shopping also helps and shows you which carriers and returns providers people are using.”

When it comes to educating customers around buying small batches, this is more challenging. Often, people are trying on clothes and choosing the ones they like, which they have done in store for decades. There is nothing inherently wrong with this behaviour – retailers just need systems in place to allow it to be done.

“Putting the genie back in the bottle is really difficult,” Louden says. But, he says, small retailers often have more leeway to improve the information on their product pages, which can help to reduce over-ordering of sizes and therefore returns.

“Sizing is something you can do a lot about as a small retailer because you can contextualise your products compared with other retailers – for example, telling people to size down for a certain product.”

Adding the exact measurements for items can also help, and making sure the colour of a product is accurate is crucial.

Educating customers towards making more sustainable choices is important for brands, but it is not just about helping the shift in attitudes. Many customers order large batches to try because it is too hard to imagine what an item will look like on. So enabling them to do this via detailed product and fit descriptions, as well as potentially fit technology, will help to curb this behaviour.

Louden adds that introducing recycling schemes and services to fix clothes will also help to edge customers further towards a more sustainable mindset.

Our new advice portal for retailers and brands, Guide to Growth, aims to solve the problems and challenges fashion businesses encounter as they grow. Email your questions to associate editor and we will get them answered. 

Plus, read our Growth in a Changing Economy report here to learn how fast-growth brands and retailers are overcoming barriers to growth. 

In partnership with Clipper

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