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Fashion, ECommerce, and SOPs went to a bar…….

If you are planning to start an online fashion business, you must be planning for a lot of things – business modelling, development of the business plan, technology, manpower, suppliers, etc. And if you have not already, include SOP-based operations planning in your list. It is imperative to have a strong operational plan that will define how your business processes and operations will lead you to achieve your business objectives. For instance, you must have a short and hassle-free yet reliable examination procedure for handling product returns. While doing so you must also bear in mind certain things. Speedy purchase is one of the reasons why customers prefer eCommerce. So, you have to make sure that your return process does not violate this requirement. Then, the most common reason for product return (exchange) of fashion merchandise like apparel or footwear is size mismatch. So, at the time of initiating product returns, you need to ensure that the required sizes are available so that customers can choose the right sizes. Although this is a technological and inventory-related aspect it very well forms a part of the SOPs.

In this blog, we will examine different facets of formulating SOPs for online fashion businesses with practical examples with inputs from our experience as business process consultants.

Good Objectives and Poor Processes

Lack of Availability of Products and Timely Delivery

There are many causes why a clothing business may fail to make the right merchandise available in the right quantity at the right time. These comprise inaccurate demand forecasts, untimely procurement of inventory/stock, sluggish operations in warehouses/FCs/distribution centres, lack of logistical planning, etc. It hampers sales and revenue and results in failed chances to serve customers and boost customer confidence. And the root cause of this is the lack of process orientation in executing the business operations. For example, in carrying out demand forecasting, having an established process for the same helps ensure that no vital parameter or statistics is missed out from the equation. In making procurement decisions also, a planned process helps ensure that work is timely triggered for initiation, purchase amounts are appropriately identified, the right approvals are obtained, all the concerned departments/teams are duly communicated so that they can play their role, etc.

Product Returns

Returns may include final merchandise, products under processing, or raw supplies. At any phase in the value chain, a product may be reverted to its previous link in the supply chain for not fulfilling the compulsory standards. For instance, customers may return products due to product defects, damages during logistics and handling, or unmet customer expectations (quality, sizes, etc.) Product returns also cause unnecessary space consumption in FCs and warehouses, additional costs such as reverse logistics, increased workload of delivery teams and other staff employed in the FCs/distribution centres/warehouses, etc. And faulty outputs emerge from poor industrial processes, lack of a strong Quality Management System (QMS), poor packing and handling procedures, poor storage standards, and poor return management.

Managing Multiple Channels

With omnichannel emerging as an effective strategy to supply to a wider customer base, more and more fashion brands are embracing this new standard. In omnichannel processes, tasks like inventory control, recruitment, logistics, purchase, warehousing, and distribution have to be planned and performed with high levels of synchronisation. For example, in purchases, ordering has to be optimised to cover the needs of both offline and online channels when ordering from the same dealer. When the goods reach the warehouse/distribution centre, there has to be appropriate segregation for all channels. Incorporating such operational precision is not possible without strong SOP-based processes mapped and defined in advance.

Poor Vendor and Supplier Management

From the supply of workplace stationeries, resources or final products to the completion of outsourced facilities like IT and housekeeping, suppliers and vendors play a dynamic role in keeping a business up and running. This necessitates defining how they interact with a business enterprise for providing the agreed supplies and services. If there is no operational outline for managing their operations and the value they are expected to deliver, it will affect business operations and the results so created. For instance, if there is no provision in the purchase process to stipulate the delivery timelines, suppliers will arrange their business commitments according to their convenience.

Weak Operational Coordination

Every enterprise must create room for operational harmonisation. It will not happen automatically. The operational planning must be done in consideration of how the different functions and teams are connected to different business processes. When these operational connections are broken, it slows down the workflows and creates scope for mistrust, fraud, and mistakes. Blame gaming is rampant in such enterprises where operational coordination is broken. We can use the case of product returns in a fashion business having poor systems and processes. The production team blames the quality team, the suppliers blame the production team, the suppliers return the culpability to the purchasing team, and while all this goes on, the brand takes a beating.

Cost Optimization

Ecommerce altered the pricing dynamics for retail apparel businesses. If you could offer your products cheaper by even a trivial margin with no major change in other factors, the deal is yours. Even a micro-pricing advantage to customers makes enormous differences in sales and revenue. Average business process management (BPM) deprives fashion brands of this opportunity. For example, optimised scheduling of delivery and pick up of inventory based on transport routes can help bring down the costs of handling and logistics. The scheduling activity must be deliberated, planned, mapped, and defined to achieve this objective. If employees in the distribution hubs have no established scheduling procedures to maintain and follow, they will go by their independent judgements that may or may not be in the best interest for the business.

How SOP fashions its way to superior operations

Timely Procurement

We deliberated earlier that because of deprived process management fashion brands and businesses in the apparel industry experience difficulties in making the goods available to their clients and customers. This leads to dents in revenue as well as reputation. To warrant that the procurement task is executed with strategic perfection, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) must be followed both in letter and in spirit. Procurement or purchase SOPs define how the decisions and choices will be made and the workflow will take place towards attaining the business and functional objectives of procurement.

Reliable Inventory Control

Some important questions that need to be resolved in inventory management are when should the reorders be commenced, who will raise and authorise the requests for inventory requirements, what should be the reorder quantity, who will check and approve or disapprove the quality of incoming and outgoing goods, etc. There must be a planned order in which these actions must take place. The output of each stage functions as the input for the next stage. For example, if ROQ is not stated in the purchase request raised by the inventory or warehouse team, how will the purchase division know? Or say, if the checks are not done for inward inventory before it goes for processing, the supplier may not accept any complaint on quantity or quality parameters later on.

SOPs can warrant that the right processes are defined and charted in advance following which the flow of events will be as it is intended and required. Today, inventory management is a highly automated business process in every industry. Once the SOPs inventory operations are defined, these are useful as inputs for identifying and customising process automation solutions.

Quality Assurance

Besides providing a pricing lead to customers, eCommerce also elevated the bar of customer expectations in terms of quality, returns and refunds. Safeguarding quality standards has become an authoritative tool in winning customer loyalty. But the crux is that defects should be exceptions, not a norm. QMS SOPs (Quality Management Systems) help apparel and footwear businesses in developing processes where observance of quality standards can be strictly upheld. Quality screens can be easily added and integrated across the supply chain under the regulation of a business enterprise. It reduces the chances of defective or poor-quality goods entering into the supply chain.

Orchestrated Operations in Warehouses and Distribution Centres

Warehouses and fulfilment or distribution centres play the important part of storage and distribution for any business enterprise. These two business functions facilitate the storage and movement of goods. They constitute the physical point of contact between the supply sources and destinations for distribution. How operations are managed in these two places affects both incoming and outgoing inventory. SOPs help ensure that the operations carried out in warehouses and distribution centres are well-orchestrated to meet the various business and functional objectives related to inventory management.

Better Coordination with Value Chain Associates

For an apparel business, value chain associates include all kinds of suppliers and service providers in the value chain as well as for internal operations and maintenance. How these external entities interact with a business enterprise is governed by the policies and procedures agreed in the contracts and agreements. When there is a planned operational system defined by SOPs, it is easier for both businesses and their value chain associates to carry out operations in tune with the agreed terms and conditions. In the absence of a well-defined working mechanism, the standards of performance take a beating. As SOP consultants, we often see such deviations in undefined working systems manifesting in the form of quality concessions, delays in processing payments, miscommunications, frauds and misappropriations, etc.


Why develop SOPs for online fashion businesses?

SOPs provide the element of planned certainty to operations planning. This certainty is important to make sure that business operations go as intended. When business operations go as intended, it means business strategies are getting correctly executed (provided these two were synchronised). And for a fashion brand (online or offline), when operations go aligned with strategies, it means moving towards meeting the objectives of many important business goals and objectives – CX, UX, Quality, Production, Procurement, Order Fulfilment, Inventory Management, etc.

Here are some of the biggest reasons why SOPs are so important for an online fashion business:

  •         Reliable inventory management to ensure the availability of products
  •         Accurate and timely order fulfilment including delivery
  •         Securing authenticity without compromising on customer experience in handling product returns
  •         Efficiently management multiple channels of distribution
  •         Proper internal coordination
  •         Proper coordination with vendors and suppliers
  •         Optimise resource utilisation

Author Bio

Rupal Agarwal

Rupal Agarwal

Chief Strategy Officer

Dr. Rupal’s “Everything is possible” attitude helps achieve the impossible. Dr. Rupal Agarwal has worked with 300+ retail e-commerce brands and companies from various sectors, since 2012, to define their growth strategy, push their limits and improve performance efficiency. Rupal and her team have remarkable success stories of helping brands achieve 10X growth.

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    The idea of having Ecommerce Consultants on-board from the beginning itself points towards reducing the involvement of the promoters in daily operations. Ecommerce Businesses willing to be a brand reaping profits & sustaining the competition must ensure that most of their processes should be automated. The more the manual intervention, the more would be the errors.

    In Ecommerce business, you get only 1 chance to impress the customer & if you mess up there, you lose the customer for long.

    Process automation in respect to all the activities pertaining to customers from order receiving to order fulfilment is a must for a seamless experience for the customers.

    Task Management is another grey area where most deadlines fail as 90% of the tasks are assigned manually & are forgotten, unheard, misunderstood or mistaken.

    YRC Team of Ecommerce Management Consultants helps to make maximum of the processes system-driven to ensure minimalistic manual intervention.


    No matter how good your product is, the customer would know only if it looks good.

    Photography includes the following steps:

    • Cataloguing your products
    • Cataloguing your images
    • Backup your images (A few cloud storage solutions include Dropbox, Google Drive, Bitcasa, Apple’s Cloud Storage etc.)
    • Choose the right camera & lens (You may also outsource the photography to a third party agency)


    Digital Marketing includes SEO & SMM. SEO i.e. Search Engine Optimization includes activities like back-linking, meta tags, blog-writing etc. to ensure your website ranks on the 1st page on Google Search.

    Next comes SMM i.e. “Social Media Marketing” which as the name suggests including promoting your products on all the social media sites, email marketing, influencer marketing & several other BTL activities.

    These activities are going to be recurring & would decide the traffic on the website, the conversions, whether the right target market is tapped, the likes, the views, the orders, the reviews & much more. YRCs Ecommerce Consultants create a budget for digital marketing right from pre-launch to launch & for each month thereafter.

    Building digital marketing strategies in coordination with the agency, selecting them to signing them off would be the role of YRC.

    This ensures seamless coordination, detailed interactions & desired execution as it is always advisable to work with a single agency than multiple of them.


    Selection of the right software for smooth functioning of back-end operations right from production to webstore display would be suggested and integrated by YRC Team.

    YRC’s Team defines SOPs of Product Movement, maps it with the locations & people. They then create a blueprint of all the features required in the software & help in shortlisting & selection.

    IT Integration involves connecting your offline inventories with real-time online webstore so when a sale occurs, inventories get deducted real time across offline as well as online platforms.

    This helps in accurate inventory management, maintaining the MOQs, re-order levels & achieving the optimum inventory levels.

    Some popular software include unicommerce, viniculum for your front-end website management & Genisys for your entire back-end Purchase, Production, Accounting, Invoicing etc. management.


    • How many cities or countries you wish to sell in?
    • Where should your Warehouse be located?
    • Should you have one warehouse in each country or city?
    • Should you be having your own delivery team in your base city?
    • Would the 3rd party vendors be reliable? What happens when they lose or misplace your product during delivery?
    • How should I manage the logistics if my goods are coming from different countries?
    • How should the goods be stored and barcoded?
    • How much space do I require for warehouse?
    • I am sure several such questions must be haunting you while you think of starting your own fashion ecommerce brand.


    At YRC, our warehousing and logistics experts can help you devise a strategy for all of the above mentioned queries and much more.

    We design the layout of the Warehouse considering the inward, goods processing, software entry, barcoding, outward, goods return, scrap storage, goods stacking & much more.

    Logistics route plan is devised considering the manufacturer to your warehouse and from there to last mile delivery locations.


    This Step involves 03 distinct parts:

    Part 1: Choosing the right Platform:

    From several platforms available in the market right from Shopify to magento, woocommerce, prestoshop, wordpress etc. you must choose the one that fits best for your business

    Part 2: UX Designing:

    “UX” denotes User Experience, which if put in simple language is building the functional requirements of the website.

    UX Designing includes designing the features required in the website, customer journey map, website features, the browsing features, navigation features, ecommerce order management process flow, checkout cart features, catalogue management, ecommerce payment system, cross selling features & much more.

    “As per statistics, 68% of the customers abandon the carts before payment”

    An interesting UX ensures the customer sticks on to the website for a longer time.

    Part 3: UI Designing:

    UI stands for User Interface, which means designing the look and feel of the website. UI includes using the right colours, elements and the entire aesthetics of the website.

    A good User Interface ensures the user completes the task that he has come for. It navigates the user through the journey of the brand in the simplest but most effective way.

    The UX designer maps out the bare bones of the user journey; the UI designer then fills it in with visual and interactive elements.

    If User experience is the bare bone, user interface wraps it up with an attractive cape.

    At YRC, our team if experts can help you develop the entire User Journey to ensure it is engaging!


    This step follows the “Designing” Phase, whether you have an in-house design team, freelance designers or an outsourced design company. It is one of the most exciting phases, as here you see your designs turning into products & your ideas turning into reality.

    In most start-up cases, production is outsourced i.e. brands tie-up with the established manufacturers/ job-workers to get their products manufactured.

    Sampling involves multiple 04 Stages, Fit-Sample, Prototype Sample, Pre-Production Sample & the Production Sample.

    Prototype Sample is the first sample provided to the buyer. It can be in any fabric/ colour. This sample is just to understand whether the product design looks equally great in reality.

    Fit Sample, as the name suggests is prepared to check the fit of the garment i.e. the various sizes, length, width etc.

    Pre-production is made by the actual production line. Here the stitching quality and other aspects related to manufacturing are checked. This is the last stage where rejection can be accepted.

    Production Sample is made before the production which is the replica of what is going to be finally produced.

    Once you are through with all this, you are good to go ahead & get your goods manufactured.


    Product Designing or Sourcing is the heart of the Ecommerce Fashion Brand.

    Product Designing / Sourcing can be done in several ways, as follows:

    • In-house Design Team
    • Freelance Designers
    • Outsourced Design Team
    • Ready Product Sourcing (From Manufacturer or Wholesaler)

    At YRC, we evaluate your business strategy & business model to arrive at the decision, which of the above ways would be best-fit for your business. In certain cases, product sourcing may be a combination of the above.

    These are the people who are going to build your brand! Whether they are the designers or merchandiser, your brand look is going to be in their hands.

    If you are designing each garment from the scratch, the sourcing would play crucial role in developing design identity of your brand.

    Sourcing includes fabric, trims, lining & all the raw material required to build the garment.


    Branding is the “Look of the Brand”, right from logo to tagline, the colours used, the brand story, the brand communications on social media, the packaging & all the other aspects which speak directly or indirectly to the customers. Branding constitutes the look & feel of the brand & hence must be thoughtfully planned to match with the product that we are selling.

    Branding must appeal to our target audience. Example : A golden colour logo depicting finesse, art, richness, premium, however beautiful it may be individually cannot go with a brand selling affordable kids wear products. So, your logo must be in-line with your brand positioning, whether you are an expensive brand or a luxury brand or a value for money brand, it must be depicted from your “Branding”.

    It is an integral part to attract the target audience.


    Organogram is the “HR Blueprint” of the business which is created at the onset, to map out the team required across each function at various stages of the business. At the launch, only key people need to be got on board to ensure the project gets started & at this stage, all of them need to multi-task. Similarly, certain financial as well as operational goals are set for addition of the further team. Example, for the operations team, we hire 1 operations manager during the pre-launch phase & we add 1 more only when the business kicks-off & we reach a volume of selling more than 1000 pcs/ month or a turnover of more than 0.1 million USD.

    SOPs are Standard Operating Procedures, a bible to run the entire organization right from Sales, Purchase, HR, Order receiving to Order fulfilment, Inventory Management, Accounts, Warehouse, Logistics, Supply Chain, Production & all the other relevant functions for the business. Business must be organized from its first day of operations; only then the tasks can be delegated.

    At YRC, we design the organization structure, the processes, and approximate time taken to execute each process, job profile of every member within the organization, their KRAs, KPIs & the Reporting Structure.


    Critical Pathway Analysis (CPA), is a project management technique which cannot be overlooked while launching an ecommerce fashion brand. Brand launch process is cumbersome with multiple inter-dependent & time-bound tasks involved, which need to be tracked to ensure the project remains on track.

    CPA outlines key tasks across the project, their turnaround time (TAT) & the dependencies of tasks upon each other. It identifies the sequence of tasks, their interdependent steps from inception to completion, their criticalities, and their dates of onset, target dates of completion along with the key responsible person for the respective activities. Critical Pathway helps in understanding the unimportant & not urgent tasks which may jeopardize the execution of the project because of an unexpected snag! It also maps out the potential bottlenecks which might be posed because of the dependencies of tasks upon each other & cases where the next task cannot be commenced before the completion of the previous one.

    CPA detects the minimum & the maximum time involvement of a particular individual or team to execute the task, thereby arriving at the overall deadlines associated with the project.

    At Your Retail Coach, we design the Critical Pathway & review it periodically to ensure the project is on track & the progress is measurable.


    Business Strategy includes the vision, mission, goals, business model, business plan & strategy for all the functions within the organization.

    Business Strategy is a well-defined plan that outlines who, what, where, why, how & when for the company; for example, who would be the target market, how to attract the target audience, when to launch new products, where to operate from, how to handle competitors, what would be the USP, what would be long term goal of the organization & several other answers to the 5Ws of Strategy.

    Business Strategy aligns the organization towards a common goal. Business SWOT helps company to identify & overcome their weaknesses & focus to sharpen the strengths. Business strategy forecasts future risks and helps business in building skillsets to overcome the potential threats.

    YRC’s Business Plan focuses on creating a “Blueprint” of the business, thereby deriving the feasibility of the concept & gauge whether the opportunity is lucrative to invest time, energy & effort. Business Plan creates cash flow understanding i.e. building inflow & outflow cash projections from Week zero to week 60 i.e. 05 year projection. Business Plan calculates the capital investment, operating costs, one-time costs, recurring costs & all the other numbers relevant to obtain the breakeven sales, return on investment, return on capital, internal rate of return & several other ratios. Business Plan is also one of the important requirements if you are targeting the “Investor Route”. Fund raising becomes extremely transparent & channelized. With business plan panned out clearly, the business will know until what point must it be stretched & where to stop, which reduces the probability of unplanned investments.


    Starting the concept of Ecommerce Fashion brand with Market Research ensures we get detailed understanding of the industry & this research report also acts as a social confirmation for your concept. Market Research helps in understanding the target locations, their population, potential online buyers for your product, competitors for each category, and top selling products of the competitors, competitors’ price range, offers & their responses & much more. Market Research helps in thorough understanding of your brand position as compared to our competitors. It helps in identifying gaps in the market, in your category along with the scope of the said product in the desired market. This will help in validation of your concept & prevents you from making the same mistakes as your fellow brands, eventually saving your time, energy & efforts. This phase is also a make or a break phase, as the market research study may at-times come up with some eye-popping numbers & statistics which might compel you to re-think on your product or category that you are planning to sell or alter your entire concept itself!! Market Research Reports analyse the competitors’ webstore for their traffic, conversion & sales. This is extremely valuable information to derive our inventory budgets & projections, which takes us to our next phase.