Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Big data has turned "fashion forecasting" from an art into a science. Is that a good thing? 

In recent years, retailers have increasingly embraced big data instead of simply relying on the intuitive sense of fashion designers and buyers. Stores that have leftover inventory or are out of stock on bestselling items now look to real-time data and analytics to ensure that supply and demand are aligned.

“Fashion forecasting isn’t accurate anymore,” says Geoff Watts, co-founder of retail data and analytics provider Editd. Watts, a programmer with experience in financial modeling, describes the product he co-created in 2009 as a “Bloomberg terminal for fashion.”

Users—including brands like Gap, Target, Gilt Groupe, and several U.K. High Street brands—pay upwards of $2,500 a month to access a suite of dashboards that show what products are currently on the market, how much they’re selling for, and how quickly the items are selling out.

“We crawl the web in the way that Google crawls the web,” says Watts. In addition to looking at retail websites, Editd’s software also monitors social media and fashion blogs to determine what’s trending. It can take into account local and regional dialects—that “jersey” has a different meaning in South Africa—and the data are refreshed every 24 hours.

The EDITD dashboard shows users how products industry-wide are selling in real time.

Retailers have always had business-intelligence tools but most, from streetwear to luxury, don’t provide real-time information on the entire industry.

Many apparel companies use trend forecasting site WGSN, which tried and failed to acquire Editd in 2012, and just acquired another popular tool, StyleSight. Watts points out that both of those platforms take a more qualitative, editorial-driven approach versus a quantitative, data-driven view.
 
“[Editd] is more about managing markdowns and understanding if the entire industry overbought on something and it’s a bomb,” Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, a retail analyst with Forrester Research told Quartz. He also noted that “[T]his product doesn’t do as much to help you with your forward-looking buys.”
 
The London-based company currently has clients in Russia, South America, and Indonesia and is using its most recent fundraising round of $4.4 million to focus on expansion and building out its presence in New York.
 
While big data has already had a dramatic impact on the bottom line for vertically-integrated retailers like J.Crew, there are still several fashion executives who aren’t entirely sold on cutting out the art.
 
“The danger is when data becomes prescriptive,” Emma Farrow, head of design for Topshop, told the NYT. “Because that fails to acknowledge what influences trends.”

For an industry that generates $1 trillion annually, intuition still has its place.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site. 

more from Quartz:

Why an American Pipeline Giant is Volunteering to Pay More Taxes

The Incredible Amount of Money a Giant Bond Trader Makes

Watch John Oliver Grill the Payday Loan Industry

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  2. Design

    A New Plan to Correct a Historic Mistake in Pittsburgh

    A Bjarke Ingels Group-led plan from 2015 has given way to a more “practical” design for the Lower Hill District. Concerns over true affordable housing remain.

  3. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  4. A crowded room of residents attend a local public forum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
    Life

    Are Local Politics As Polarized As National? Depends on the Issue.

    Republican or Democrat, even if we battle over national concerns, research finds that in local politics, it seems we can all just get along—most of the time.

  5. Life

    How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

    Male-dominated trades like construction, plumbing, and welding can offer job security and decent pay. A camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.