Fast Fashion’s Secret to Supersonic Delivery in Southeast Asia

I visited a fashion e-commerce warehouse to find out how online shopping these days arrives so quick.

by Sharon Shum
09 April 2019, 4:29am

Image courtesy of ZALORA

Earlier this year, I noticed a fascinating statistic that particularly stressful work weeks had a positive correlation with the number of ZALORA packages being delivered to our building. It wasn’t difficult to identify the culprit - our editor-in-chief Natashya was indulging in the not-so-guilty pleasure of buying stuff online during office hours.

And she’s not alone. It’s been found that Southeast Asian consumers make most of their online orders between 9 to 5, with a peak on hump day. Sometimes you just need a healthy distraction to break up a long day, or you simply might not have time to physically make it to the store in between deadlines. This is all pretty good news for today’s e-commerce behemoths, since placing orders from a desktop instead of your mobile usually results in more browsing, and larger basket sizes.

While customer service used to be an attentive salesperson plying you with compliments as you measured yourself with some degree of uncertainty in the mirror, fashion e-commerce companies like ZALORA have replaced that experience with wide choice, high speed and free returns.

Personally, I tend to avoid online shopping at all costs. The endless scroll catalogues are a trigger for chronic indecision, as well as a condition I would describe as FOMO OD or “Fear Of Missing Out On Deals.” I find it alarming that the average person in Southeast Asia spends 140 minutes a month shopping online, since I could watch 6 episodes of anime on Netflix in that time.

zalora pop station return
Natashya returning a ZALORA package at a locker system near our office. Photo by Sharon Shum

For some shoppers like Natashya however, the convenience is irresistible. “I can order anything I want, and it arrives the next day. I try it on in the office and if it doesn’t fit I return it at the POPstation locker during lunch break.”

So when we received an invitation to visit ZALORA’s regional e-Fulfillment Hub in Malaysia, I took up the offer as a chance to discover the secret behind fast fashion’s supersonic delivery speeds. There was a “no heels” policy for the visit, and I wondered if they would have us running through some warehouse that was about the size of nine soccer fields.

I might have had some fantasy of drones zipping around and sorting items at the e-Fulfilment Hub, but the level of automation was not quite there yet.

zalora warehouse packers
Zooming around the warehouse to pack your latest online order. Image courtesy of ZALORA

What I did discover was a well planned, innovative and nimble proprietary system that tracks the status and location of every single one of up to 4.2 million items that might be lurking on the warehouse shelves at any given point in time. Couple that with a young and dedicated workforce that unloads, picks, packs and sorts tens of thousands of items on any given day. Delivery fleets go to lengths to ensure people get their packages on time. A truckload of orders is driven across the causeway from Malaysia to Singapore every night.

For commercial holidays like Singles’ Day (11/11), a special 24/7 task force is hired to fulfill orders from the shopping frenzy, resulting in the impressive statistic of 1 item per second being picked and packed for delivery. Returns are handled on the day they are received, so customers can get their refunds as soon as possible.

What this means is that a lot of clothes are being bought online. And people are receiving them faster than ever. On average, a ZALORA customer anywhere in Southeast Asia will receive their purchase in 2 days. The ability to solve the logistical puzzle of selling and delivering goods across metropolises and remote islands promises a large payout, and the company is clearly in the running for a piece of the pie. But while it might have started with the aim of giving Southeast Asian consumers fuss-free access to international fashion brands, ZALORA’s scale of operation is now providing a great opportunity for local fashion designers to expand their distribution.

“What we see is the emergence of players like Pomelo and Love Bonito that are homegrown, are starting to serve the whole region, and we can serve as an enabler for them because we have the platform,” notes managing director Rostin Javadi. To him, ZALORA’s presence in Southeast Asia is “enabling the fashion industry to evolve into the next digital step”.

While I might not be in the target demographic of “serial shoppers,” simply having the option of finding a suitable outfit for special occasions (modest wear for three of my friend’s muslim weddings this year!) without having to brave the weekend crowds at a mall already makes me a pretty satisfied consumer.

The writer’s trip to the e-Fulfillment Hub was sponsored by ZALORA.