As an experienced Buying and Merchandising expert working with fashion retailers across the globe, I see first-hand the challenge of managing inventory. It's a constant juggling act to stay on top of evolving trends and ensure that the right products are available to customers at the right time in the right place. This is particularly true at size level in popular categories such as dresses and sandals. When volumes are big, making small improvements at points of failure can bring huge rewards. At higher price points, getting size ratios right is critical to full price sell-through, minimising markdown and terminal stock. This is why I believe that tracking returns and implementing strategies to reduce customers ordering multiple sizes in one order can make a material difference in inventory management and achieved margin.
Returns are a natural part of online retail, particularly in fashion, where customers often order multiple styles and sizes to try on at home. Sales are always the first indicator of customer appeal but by closely monitoring return patterns, retailers can gain valuable insights into problem products. This is particularly powerful when combined with customer reviews. If a specific style or size is frequently returned, it may be necessary to re-evaluate the website imagery or accuracy of the product details or amend the fit on forward orders and similar styles. If there is a fundamental product failure, then quick action can be taken to clear the stock effectively and cancel future orders to minimise financial exposure. This proactive approach helps retailers to break the cycle of repeating product mistakes and avoids unnecessary inventory build-up.
Another crucial aspect is discouraging customers from ordering multiple sizes in a single order. Whilst it is convenient for customers, it impacts size availability and can leave inventory in the wrong place. A quick survey of new season dresses on a major retailer’s website showed that 20% of dresses were already out of stock in size 14, a core size. The combined time from despatch through customer evaluation to processing the returned inventory to the required location may make short-life seasonal products such as summer dresses unavailable to sell for weeks, impacting size availability and full price sell-through. By implementing techniques that improve communication of size and fit, customers will be more likely to only buy the size they believe will fit them best. Trust will build over time with known retailers and brands, so it is important to monitor results over months not weeks. Once there is a clear trend, adjustments can be made to inventory levels and size ratios to recognise the reduction in unproductive stock.
Having worked closely with fashion retailers, I have seen how often inventory management is overlooked in favour of focussing on product and brand selection. To drive commercial success and customer satisfaction, inventory management is critical. Minimising inventory unavailable to sell and improving the customer’s hit rate of buying the right style/ size first time will help optimise inventory management in season. Increasingly there are technical solutions that use data effectively to help tackle these issues. By implementing strategies to track returns, adjustments can be made to the planning of future seasons. Understanding returns data and bringing down the number of size options in a customer order are two actions that retailers can take to make a tangible difference in their inventory management and availability. This not only helps maintain up-to-date inventory levels but also enhances the overall customer experience by ensuring that desired products are readily accessible, thereby building brand loyalty.
In conclusion, if you want to improve the bottom line, I urge fashion retailers to prioritise actions that will improve inventory management. Look at the options available to make use of data and AI to gain insight and set KPIs that will drive behaviour and tackle thorny issues such as returns and unproductive stock. Tracking returns and reducing multiple size orders are two options, that can be implemented effectively, to make a tangible commercial difference, enabling retailers to free up excess inventory to invest in new trends and meet customer demands efficiently.