This paper provides an overview of e-commerce activities in the textile and apparel industries. We begin with a brief look at the current competitive landscape in the “bricks and mortar” apparel industry, highlighting the changes that have occurred over the past decade as retailers have adopted “lean-retailing” business models in response to increased product proliferation and shorter product life cycles. With the advent of the internet, apparel sales have started to move on-line.
To understand how the growth pattern of on-line apparel sales might differ from that of other products, we outline some of the critical ways in which the apparel purchase decision differs from purchase decisions for other consumer products, such as books and compact disks, which have experienced rapid growth in on-line sales. In view of these differences, we characterize some of the new technologies and business practices that are being developed to facilitate on-line apparel purchasing. The paper then focuses on business-to-consumer (B2C) business models that have emerged to sell apparel on-line.
We explore a range of B2C business models, from the introduction of “pure-play” internet business models to the development of on-line strategies by incumbent bricks-and-mortar retailers, catalog companies, and apparel manufacturers, highlighting some of the challenges relating to channel conflict and supply chain management that incumbent firms face as they enter the world of apparel e-commerce. We then turn to an analysis of business-to-business (B2B) models that are beginning to surface, concentrating on the potential benefits these models offer to textile-apparel-retail supply chain operations.
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We also discuss some of the different models that are emerging, and how they are related to differences in channel power. The internet has already affected the apparel and textile industries. Driven to provide consumer convenience, the majority of apparel manufacturer and retailers have created a virtual version of some aspects of their current physical environment. A few apparel manufacturers and retailers have used the internet to go beyond their existing offerings, providing the consumer with a value-added internet experience using, for example, customized on-line apparel catalogs, or offering custom-fit clothing.
However, the potential impact of the internet on the consumer, and on the industry, lies not in what the consumer sees and does on a computer, but in how retailers and manufacturers leverage the internet to meet both expressed and latent consumer needs. The technology now exists to redesign the textile-apparel supply chain to provide consumers with what they want, when and where they want it. The barriers to implementation lie less in the technology than in the willingness of the members of the supply chain to redefine their policies and practices to take full advantage of the internet technology.