The global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many trends in fashion and retail from the shift to digital shopping, the casualisation of our wardrobes, due to the working from home revolution, and the move towards more local shopping, to name but a few.
Retailers, wholesale brands and manufacturers have had to respond at great speed by ramping up their online capabilities, rebalancing their product assortment and re-assessing their retail estates. It’s said that underlying trends that had been anticipated to develop over three years have come to pass in just three months.
When physical stores across the world were obliged to close for months at the height of the crisis, the fragilities in the fashion supply chain became plain to see with retailers scrambling to cut or change forward orders, engage near-shore suppliers for more rapid-response sourcing, and, in many cases find, warehousing to hibernate excess stock (or clear it as best they could).
The need for a more transparent, robust and seamless view of the supply chain has never been more urgent. With all this in mind, the launch of CGS’s BlueCherry Next platform seems perfectly timed.
Key benefits of BlueCherry Next platform:
- Technology-agnostic: Work anywhere, on any device, without the need to download software or apps
- Agile: Offers deployment options via. cloud, SaaS, hybrid or on-premises
- Connected supply chain: Delivers such platform partners as BigCommerce, Browzwear, 3DLOOK, Threekit, mymushin and Vizoo, among others
Of course, the new omnichannel platform, which allows companies to accelerate their digital transformations, has been in development since pre-pandemic but the COVID crisis has informed the product’s development. BlueCherry Next brings together the know-how, technology and expertise of New York-based global provider of business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services CGS with that of Visual Next, the Canadian end-to-end software provider, it acquired last year.
“What has happened now is you have combined in the industry a huge customer base of 500-plus fashion companies using a software from companies that have a lot of experience [CGS and 35 years’ experience and Visual Next 25 years] and we’re leveraging that now to go to the next level,” explains Charles Benoualid, vice president, Research and Development, CGS.
“Of course, COVID hit, so a lot of the things that we were planning were either put aside or accelerated, so as a company we are emerging from this with a more appealing product. The emphasis has really been on the collaborative aspect of what the platform offers and with working from home and reduction in travel, this has become one of the most important things that the platform offers,” he says.
At the heart of the platform is the first product to be launched, the BlueCherry Next PLM, which enables a true concept-to-consumer lifecycle.
Key benefits of the platform include:
- Global collaborative platform that connects designers and merchandisers with third-party suppliers.
- Access to 3D rendering of designs and materials to reduce speed to market, allowing companies to replace physical prototypes with 3D samples. BlueCherry Next is the only platform that incorporates 3D renders from product design to B2B and B2C channels seamlessly.
- Ability to create mood boards and storyboards pre-concept, and involve buyers and consumers for validation and input before mass production.
- Full access to the extended BlueCherry suite of supply chain solutions or third-party tools with open API integrations.
The collaborative aspect of the platform speaks to the needs of all types of businesses in the fashion supply chain – from retailers to wholesale brands and manufacturers – chain and addresses many of the challenges COVID has presented when it comes to sourcing products without the ability to see or touch them. (Being based on HTML5 it allows for working anywhere on any device and for agile deployment into any existing business environment).
Benoualid explains: “From the wholesale/distributor, who is really our core customer, their ability to reach out to the buyers who are working from home, who are not coming into the showroom and not touching and feeling the product, what can we offer them – the BlueCherry B2B platform empowers them to interact with the sales people – this is a new powerful virtual means to communicate.”
The vital touch and feel component may be “missing” in this virtual world, but CGS has partnered with 3D experts such as Browzwear and Vizoo to help overcome the problem. 3D renderings, which also show products in movement, coupled with highly descriptive language, help buyers get as close a touch experience as possible.
As Benoualid points out the platform is attempting to solve two, seemingly conflicting problems, at once, which is “the fear of touch” that is keeping people away from face to face meetings and contact with materials, and “the need to touch” to ensure the final product meets expectations. “This is where the collaborative process gets exploited to the max as it helps on both sides of the development process,” he says.
The 3D aspect of the platform is not only crucial for the buying and sourcing side of the equation but also for the consumer facing side. Another key business trend that has been accelerated by COVID is the movement to Direct To Consumer (DTC) sales.
Instead of solely focusing on partner retailers as a route to market, what were once wholesale brands are now developing their own retail and e-commerce channels, which means they not only need a platform that connects the supply side but also the consumer. CGS has recognised this and has incorporated this into its platform.
“As our customers, that is the wholesalers and distributors, start to go direct to consumer the designers may want to test the consumer market before they go into production. Because when a retailer buys 10,000 pairs of pants it’s an easy outlet, but to sell 10,000 different consumers the same pair of pants is a different ballgame. Our customers are not used to that because they were selling to their customers who excelled in that,” Benoualid explains.
So CGS saw that 3D had the potential to replace prototyping and enable brands to go direct from design to consumer in 3D, and to start showing the product at an early stage to a select group of consumers and gain their feedback before going to market.
Added to that is a fit component allowing the consumer to see the product on an avatar of themselves, so they know that a product will fit and suit them before they purchase.
“Now we’ve merged three technologies which is the e-commerce, the 3D equivalent of the garment, the avatar equivalent of the consumer with accurate fit measurements and provide all of that to our customers to go direct to consumer with all the controls they need. Retailers have been focused on walk-in business, rather than e-commerce, but that is changing for them as well,” Benoualid says.
“We’ve created an eco-system that is self-sufficient from design to consumer and that’s through the 3D components and the partnerships we are announcing,” adds.
The power of partnership
Collaboration has been key for CGS with BlueCherry Next, not just facilitating collaboration for its customers, but working with other suppliers who can help create this true end-to-end solution. In the sphere of DTC, it can partner with Browzwear, BigCommerce and Vizoo, for instance, while on the fit side it can plug seamlessly into 3DLOOK and Fitmatch.
CGS also has a very close relationship with its customers, who have provided a constant source of feedback over the past three and a half decades, which has helped inform product development. But in the unique situation the market finds itself in, the company has had to draw on its own experience and instincts to create the right product.
“In this case we took a gamble, as it were, on what is happening and what we are seeing and where we feel the direction is going. If you look the pre-COVID, the COVID and the post-COVID you can describe it as the hindsight, the foresight and the vision. We are in a place where we need to be vision-driven only because our customers don’t know what to do, so how can you ask them?” Benoualid says.
There is, however, a benefit to brands and retailers not being sure about the future and that is that they are more open to new ideas and technologies at the moment, says Benoualid: “I asked a group of CEOs in March/April, ‘what do you want from us, how can we help you?’ And they said, ‘we don’t know, whatever you come up with, we’ll listen’.”
They would indeed do well to listen since this is a simple-to-integrate solution that can help them to find success in this most challenging of times.
CGS is hosting a free to attend Webinar ‘Introducing a New PLM Solution Powering Innovation and Collaboration During Unprecedented Times’ for our readers.
Please join us for this insightful webinar, where you’ll get a first look at the new BlueCherry Next PLM solution, and in addition, we will cover:
- Current trends impacting our industry in the new normal
- Top PLM requirements to increase speed-to-market and improve supply chain efficiencies
- Why a no-code solution is the best way to streamline workflows and process visibility
- Wed, Oct 21, 1pm BST
- Mark Harrop, CEO at WhichPLM
- Charles Benoualid, VP Research & Development at CGS
You can register for this webinar here.
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