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4 Lessons in Creative Operations Optimization From the World Leaders in Fast Fashion


creative operations optimization

Before I joined Pixelz, I spent over 5 years as the Global Sourcing Director at Mango. Including that time, I spent well over a decade in business development and sourcing for apparel companies.

That is why, as an e-commerce “insider,” it’s always entertaining to read industry analyst opinions on what makes the Fast Fashion industry tick. Most conclusions focus on “logistics” and “sourcing strategy.”

Those are good answers, but they are only part of the story.

It is true that, like all industries, leaders in Fast Fashion have been innovating for years to optimize supply chain logistics for their fashion operations. Through near-shore, off-shore, and local source solutions (just to name a few), fashion supply chains of practically all major brands have been optimized to the utmost degree.

But that isn’t what sets Fast Fashion industry leaders apart.

What sets Fast Fashion industry leaders apart is their focus on optimizing their digital content creation processes in the way other industries have optimized sourcing and logistics.

Fast Fashion brands like H&M, Zara, Bestseller and Mango have spent the last 15 years trying to answer the following question: with so many products being pushed to market on such short cycles, how can we make sure the critical digital content that goes with these products (product photography, ads, video, etc) keeps pace without sacrificing quality?

Those brands have since cracked the code. The question has been answered.

And now we get to learn the lessons of how the very best do it.

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Table of Contents

Lesson 1: Make Your Creative Operations Part of Your Supply Chain

The old paradigm of separating your digital content creation process from the rest of your supply chain is over.

Fast Fashion companies now consider their creative operations (photographers, image editors, copywriters, e-commerce tech, etc) to be just as much a part of their fashion supply chain as their design, merchandising, sourcing, and logistics staff.

In practice, that means bringing operational excellence into the creative process. Fast Fashion strategy meetings involve analyzing tons of data on everything from Studio-to-Web lead-times, Product Listing Optimization, Digital Asset Management, and Multi-Channel e-commerce. They are constantly using data to identify areas of their creative process where they can make even the slightest optimizations that, over time, result in big efficiency gains for their business.

How You Can Make Your Creative Operations Part of Your Supply Chain

No matter the size of your operation, you can adopt the same mentality as these industry leaders by asking hard questions about your own creative processes and then tracking relevant data that might help provide you an answer.

For a few examples, you might think about things like:

  • What is the average number of reshoots required per product?
  • How much time are you spending on simple, repetitive, image-editing tasks?
  • How long does it take from having a new product to uploading it to your website?
  • How long does your internal content approval process take?

Tracking the data around specific parts of your creative process is the first step in identifying ways you might improve it. And as you experiment with potential solutions, you can use the data you collect to measure the impact of any changes you make.

Rinse and repeat on a few parts of your creative process and you end up with creative operations that more closely resemble the lean studios of the leaders in the fashion industry.

Lesson 2: Utilize the Hybrid-Studio Model

The primary goal of operational excellence is simple: minimize waste.

This is why Fast Fashion retailers utilize ‘hybrid’ photo studios where in-house graphic designers manage external post-production vendors as well as personally edit product images for urgent jobs.

Keep in mind that, Fast Fashion retailers normally use the most time-intensive photo editing techniques and often provide significantly more product images on their sites than other fashion retailers. These processes take 3-4 times as long to produce than standard images, but because they have streamlined their digital operations by outsourcing much of the image-editing and retouching work, they produce higher quality and more diverse imagery than most brands, in less time and for a lower cost.

How You Can take Advantage of the Hybrid-Studio Model

A hybrid-studio model can provide an incredible boost in efficiency for your creative operations, freeing up your talented people from repetitive, time-consuming tasks.

But there is some risk involved: selecting the wrong outsourcing partner can mean missed deadlines, time-consuming email exchanges, low-quality work and “surprise” charges on invoices.

As you begin researching for the perfect post-production partner, we suggest considering the following:

  • What types of turnaround times for images does the vendor guarantee?
  • How much transparency around pricing does their order placement software offer?
  • What is their reputation in terms of quality and on-time delivery?
  • What other brands are they working with?

Finding a reputable post-production partner to take care of your photo editing needs will result in big efficiency gains in your operations. Just be careful to select the right one.

Lesson 3: Understand the Importance of High-Quality Product Photography

The emphasis Fast Fashion brands place on image quality is no surprise: these brands understand the direct impact that high-quality product photography has on sales.

eBay.com Research Labs published a paper studying the impact of product images on conversion rates. The researchers found that:

  • Conversion rates tripled for listings that included two product images versus one.
  • There is a clear trend that as photo count increases per product, the conversion rate also increases.
  • Higher-quality images were correlated with more successful sellers
  • Using larger photos that allow for buyers to more easily inspect the details of a product increases the chances that someone will purchase the product.

These stats are no secret. Professional product images are critical in driving sales and Fast Fashion brands take advantage of this by making their creative operations ultra-efficient allowing them to produce as much high-quality imagery per product as possible.

How to Make Sure Your Product Images are Catching Eyes and Driving Traffic

As a company that works with some of the world’s largest fashion brands, we know exactly what the biggest brands are doing to their product images to catch as many eyes as possible.

Our own Pixelz Blog is a great resource for getting the inside scoop on the best practices the biggest brands are following. There, you can learn how these brands are using everything from different shadowing effects to 3D mannequins to make their products stand out and drive sales and how you can incorporate those best practices into your own product photography.

Lesson 4: Take Advantage of Third-Party Tools to Scale Your Business

Optimizing their content creation does not only allow Fast Fashion brands to create more, higher-quality content at a lower cost.

It also allows them to greatly increase their brand’s reach.

From the beginning, Fast Fashion brands were quick to embrace multi-channel e-commerce. To do so efficiently, they have integrated the content requirements of different platforms (Amazon, Pinterest, etc) directly into their creative processes. And much like the approach with hybrid-studios, they then leverage third-party tools like Commerce Hub and Acenda to allow them to scale their business across the web.

How You Can Take Advantage of Third-Party Tools to Scale Your Business

Using these third-party tools will only help your operational efficiency if you have the product images that meet the requirements of each of the e-commerce sites you want to grow your presence on. The downside is that this can require additional work because you need a different version of each product image to meet the requirements of each platform.

This is another reason that outsourcing to a product partner can be such an efficiency booster.

A company like Pixelz allows you to order images to the exact specifications of an e-commerce marketplace, which means you not only get your images back exactly how you want, you can also have them prepared on delivery for any number of e-commerce sites you plan on uploading to. This allows you to reach all the platforms you want, without adding extra workload to your own teams.

6 Quick Wins to Get You Started

No matter how big or small your operation is, you can use these lessons from Fast Fashion industry leaders to optimize your own digital content creation processes. Below are six actionable steps to help get you started :

  1. Analyze your post-production workflow and identify digital production bottlenecks that are preventing you from getting your products online faster.
  2. Find a reliable post-production partner to be an extension of your in-house e-commerce team and start reducing studio-to-web lead-times and driving down costs.
  3. Take your product images to the next level by following product-specific industry best practices like professional retouching, shadowing effects, and invisible mannequins.
  4. Create multi-channel compliant product images and take advantage of the reach of online third party integrators such as Commerce Hub and Acenda.
  5. Create a hybrid image editing team that manages your external post-production partner and that can take-on urgent image editing jobs in-house

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If you are interested in exploring how some of the world’s largest fashion brands optimize their creative operations with Pixelz, you can sign up above to explore our software, the services we offer, and even send us 10 free images to edit to get a feel for how our service works.