The Uber Way of Wholesale Buying – Tommy’s New Digital Showroom

Investing in wholesale buying processes was not a brand industry priority over the last few years. Tommy Hilfiger prioritized it though and created best practice.

The media is flooded with stories of new future stores and advanced consumer technologies. All brand investment strategies point towards direct-to-consumer, while digital wholesale transition is far from flavour of the month. Despite this, Tommy Hilfiger launched a new digital showroom in 2015 that has been piloted and is now being rolled out across the globe has all the ingredients for best practice wholesale buying processes.

The idea is to transform the traditional costly and complex sample selection chaos by cleanly laying it out on the big screen.

Benefits of the Digital Showroom

To visitors, the new showroom process is a two-step approach. The visit starts at the ‘theatre’ with its 2.4 x 4.2 metre video wall, that introduces you to next season’s plans, the social media, the marketing and the new collection. The wholesale buying process continues in the showroom on working tables where the Tommy managers assist customers to put together next season’s assortment on an 84’’ screen.

“I’m convinced this will revolutionise the fashion industry,” says Daniel Grieder, Tommy’s CEO, in a recent interview. “We believe this technology will play a big role in the future”, and he goes on to explain that the transformation will blend digital aspects, entertainment and traditional aspects.

While CEOs have somewhat of a marketing responsibility for their brand and sometimes sell the most basic developments as a great move, Grieder is right in his judgement. Having witnessed the new showroom process twice, it agree that Tommy Hilfiger has a great new brand best practice process on hand.

A Best Practice Wholesale Buying Process

Whether planned intentionally, driven by technology features or by Tommy’s rich marketing content, it doesn’t matter. If you have been introduced to next season with Tommy’s strong marketing content it touches even the most rational buyer. While in the past, a buyer had to believe what the brand is going to do to enhance next season’s sales, now you actually get to see it.

Remember your first experience with the convenience of an Uber order and ride? Now imagine the traditional show room process is to be replaced by an Uber-like wholesale buying process. It is live, and it works. The physical product disappears and you plan the next season completely on the screen. You move pullover, bags, jackets and accessories in and out of your order books, just with the tip of your fingers on the screen.When done you review the big picture of your buy on the mega screen, working table or tablet.

I’ll spare you the technical details and many things are still in progress, but trust me when I say this is a Hollywood approach to buying. Not surprisingly, the buyers of Zalando & Co love it – the processes and the tools – and to see how products appear on screen. But also the traditional brick-and-mortar retailers love it. So Tommy is very confident to switch all of its European showrooms to digital by creating  29 theaters and 98 work tables in 2017. Sample chaos at Tommy has an expiry date of 2018.

But to cool my excitement down and so that you don’t get frustrated with your own traditional showroom, allow me to share two pain relieving facts: between kick off and the first pilot it took Tommy less than two years to develop. So, not so to hard to catch up to and, the current showroom process ends only with a pdf file for the buyer. It’s like having to pay the Uber driver with cash.

Tommy’s Best Practice Lever

Tommy is not the first brand to push digital investments into its wholesale buying processes, but currently their technology is possibly the most state of the art. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not commenting on the technical features, I’m talking about the touch of technology, the quality of the process and the emotional experience of selling and buying fashion. Yes it would be perfect, if buyers could review and rework the orders at home. But maybe that is a part of the process where it becomes too complex and the fun is gone? We should allow the showroom process to be simply best practice stand alone.

If you read last week’s introduction of best practice management, you may ask what causes best practice at Tommy? Many things have come together, but at the end it is foremost the change buying process, not the technology, that create a different buyer experience. There are improvements in cost and lead times and credits go to many people in the Tommy Hilfiger organisation. Without the executives’ ­­strong digital vision 2020, there would have been a low profile showroom. Also, without the brand power and investment of millions in annual marketing and the presence of prominent social media celebrities, even the greatest showroom technique wouldn’t create emotions.

The showroom alone doesn’t make Tommy a best practice company, but it will contribute a lot towards retail buyers and franchise partners experiencing best practice wholesale management. The process and technology are not ready yet, but buyers are touched. The pdf will be replaced soon and Tommy’s order applications will be available direct on the in-house systems of their retail customers.

For years the brand industry has worked to improve the buying processes between retail and wholesale. It seems the new buying processes and the technology finally enable a breakthrough in experience. Not all brands will manage to follow Tommy’s way and some will enjoy promoting the traditional physical way of ordering. But hey, it isn’t so bad to still order a taxi the traditional way, from time to time is it?

About the Author

Guido has been working in the brand industry for 20+ years. As founder of Team Retail Excellence, he assisted to grow brand organizations qualitatively and commercially. This post is an early abstract from his coming book on “Best Practices for Brand Growth Management”. You can reach him best by email or see more from him here.

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