In the first article in this two-part series, I talked about how the ongoing compression of business cycles, the dominance of digital channels including social media, and the hyper-growth of e-commerce, as well as the disruption brought about by Covid-19 are collectively forcing brands and retailers to accelerate their go-to-market processes to work@digitalspeed. Here, I explain in greater detail what it really means to work@digitalspeed, and set out a practical roadmap with five key pillars on how brands and retailers can achieve it.
We know that tightening the timeline between ideation and finished product, and getting that finished product into the hands of consumers, has been a top priority for apparel and retail businesses for some time, but recent developments have set a new pace. Where it used to take a year for a new trend to emerge and make its way around the world, research from Boston Consulting Group has revealed that window has shrunk to just 3 to 5 weeks.
To seize the opportunity presented by trend windows this short, retailers need to become more agile and more responsive, rapidly, or they risk losing ground to more digitallyadvanced competitors. This means going beyond isolated process or technology improvements, and putting into practice bigger, more ambitious digital transformation strategies.
Path toward recovery
As we move toward recovery and in order to thrive in a post-Covid, digital-native world, brand and retail businesses now have the opportunity to orient their digital transformation strategies around five key ‘pillars’ that I have identified through countless discussions with C-suite executives from many of the world’s leading brands and retailers, as well as some of the most respected global analyst firms.
Each pillar has its own rapid return on investment when tackled as an isolated project, but each also forms part of a comprehensive roadmap that can reliably fuel a transformation from traditional methods to the latest digital working practices—providing brands and retailers with a clear strategy to turn cutting-edge innovations into solutions that empower them to work@digitalspeed.
According to The State of Fashion 2021 report by McKinsey & Company, “…with the Covid-19 pandemic dominating thoughts and minds, fashion executives are planning for a range of scenarios and hoping for a speedy global recovery. However, amid increasing pressure on performance, shifting consumer behaviors, and accelerating demand for digital, there is an imperative to act decisively to prepare for the next normal.”
So, what are these five key pillars that define working@digitalspeed, and how can brands and retailers use them to turn their digital transformation visions into action to drive post-pandemic growth and succeed in a new era?
Pillar #1 Seamless bi-directional data capture and flow, from plan to sell.
For product design and development to successfully work@digitalspeed, it must be able to capture information from both upstream and downstream sources—from planning systems to supply chain partners and from retail channels to consumer engagements. The foundational component to working@digitalspeed is a comprehensive retail-focused PLM platform that provides end-to-end data management, collaboration, tracking and reporting. Ideally, your PLM solution should then be able to aggregate this information and make it accessible to the full complement of in-house and supply-chain roles—enabling faster, more accurate decision-making by presenting a single source of truth.
To streamline the capture of this data, an effective middleware should seamlessly connect different enterprise systems, and establish a route for consolidating the output of both creative and commercial solutions. The outcome? Faster time to market, better product quality (fit), and full collaboration and accountability throughout the value chain.
“PLM is the backbone for a complete digital eco-system, enabling brands to join the dots from concept to consumer.” – Mark Harrop, CEO, WhichPLM
Pillar #2 Network Engagement for early insights to understand and predict consumer profiles and trends.
With the explosion of e-commerce and other digital sales channels such as social media, retailers and brands need to react quickly to seasonless trends, and foster new relationships with their customers. And they need to do this based on real data, not intuition. A recent survey of more than 1,000 consumers revealed the potentially significant return of investing in building the direct relationships that will allow brands to gather that data: more than 75 percent of shoppers will buy from brands they feel connected to rather than a competitor.
Your PLM system should be capable of integrating to leading social platforms, allowing your designers to tap into inspiration and consumer sentiment at source, and to create on-trend products in a world where trends rise and fall in near-real-time. Capturing customer feedback early during the design process is essential in order to improve full-price sell-through and reduce reliance on markdowns.
Now that you’ve been able to capture trend and consumer data, you’ll want to make predictive recommendations to improve design and forecasting decisions. For example, AI and machine learning capabilities can predict how incorporating a trend could optimize sell-through rates and improve margins. And when the time comes to execute on these informed ideas, a PLM solution that supports planning by channel and geography to allow retailers to source efficiently, target different markets, and reduce their costs will be hugely beneficial.
Pillar #3 A connected and integrated global supply chain providing visibility and agility to support key goals.
The modern retail market demands detailed insight into sourcing, production, and distribution processes. Real-time collaboration and accountability are essential, providing early insight into any risks that might jeopardize your delivery, cost or quality targets. The Future of Retail Supply Chains, a recent report from McKinsey, states: “…to achieve expedited deliveries that consumers demand in a cost-effective way, retailers need a unified view of their supply chain that shows what is available at each point and channel at any time.”
From sharing live technical specifications to reduce errors and eliminate interpretation, to co-creating on new styles using secure vendor profiles, a best-in-class PLM solution can paint a clear picture of every supply chain activity, helping you to visualize bottlenecks and make timely decisions during design and development.
A key component of any well-orchestrated supply chain is sustainability. With the global fashion industry now making up 10 percent of the world’s global carbon emissions, it’s no wonder that sustainability is top of mind for brands and retailers, and has become a critical corporate initiative. According to McKinsey’s latest State of Fashion report, sustainability is now the second-biggest opportunity for the fashion industry, second only to digital.
Sustainability is also a key concern for consumers and is playing an increasingly influential role in their purchasing decisions:
“67% of consumers consider the use of sustainable materials to be important when buying clothes, while 63% also look at the way a brand promotes sustainability.” – Vogue
Capturing and analyzing data at the sources of production, such as mills, cut and sew, finishing and logistics, is critical to ensuring brands and retailers can execute meaningful sustainability programs, while ensuring quality products are delivered on-time and on-budget.
Pillar #4 Data intelligence and analytics to make better product and business decisions, faster.
Exposure to risk is everywhere in retail. The Covid-19 pandemic has left many businesses with overstock they were unable to sell, and it has exacerbated the longstanding challenges of limited full-price sell-through and drastic markdowns.
Combining the power of data and a collaboration platform like PLM with cutting-edge machine learning and artificial intelligence, brand and retail businesses can drive better and more insightful decisions, ultimately leading to lower costs, better collaboration, quicker time to market and better sell through.
“The scale, speed, complexity, and consumer orientation of modern retail create conditions ripe for artificial intelligence,” said Jon Duke, vice president of research, IDC Retail Insights. “When those conditions are combined with rapidly shifting consumer preferences in a competitive market filled with new digital-native entrants, it creates the opportunity for forward-thinking retailers to strategically deploy AI solutions to drive unique competitive advantage.”
Using cost as an example, by leveraging the aforementioned technologies, brands and retailers have the ability to better plan costing strategies and reduce their risk exposure, with early and constant visibility into the full suite of cost factors—including materials utilization and aggregation, labor and distribution, across multiple product variations. Coupled with the ability to conduct hypothetical costing scenarios, much earlier during the product creation process, to ensure that new products and collections meet targets, this insight and actionable intelligence can dramatically increase margins.
Other examples that demonstrate how data intelligence and analytics are enabling companies to drive better, faster and more insightful business decisions, are outlined in a case study we recently published in partnership with Lacoste, one of many long-time retail customer partners that have continued to rely on PTC technology to fuel their digital transformation.
Pillar #5 Leverage 3D experiences up and downstream to shift to selling products before they are mass produced: Design, Sell, Make.
Digital product creation has become a priority investment for businesses of every size due to the immediate benefits of speed to market, product quality and fit, and collaboration with customers and suppliers. According to Kalypso’s Annual Survey on Digital Product Creation Maturity in Retail, Footwear & Apparel:
“Over 90% of brand and retail leaders believe that the pandemic accelerated the need for digital product creation.”
Adoption of 3D has also accelerated significantly as a result of the pandemic, and most brands and retailers will have a 3D strategy as a cornerstone of their digital transformations.
The full power of data and 3D assets can be unlocked with a bi-directional integration between 3D and PLM. Key benefits include shortening time to market and reducing the cost and sustainability impact of multiple sample iterations. A truly digital process will create a digital twin for your products and will use these same 3D assets to better engage with digital consumers, and create channels for visual communication with suppliers and wholesale customers. Bottom line: your PLM solution should be packaged with seamless, two-way integrations to leading 3D design and simulation tools—allowing your users to leverage virtual samples to speed ideation, line review and approvals, and then to use the same 3D assets in augmented reality, merchandise planning, B2B buying relationships, and e-commerce visualization scenarios.
Any business that can achieve excellence in these five areas can consider itself to be working@digitalspeed, and I’m thrilled to see the progress that our retail customers have already made with the help of our portfolio of technology solutions, and the support of our team of international retail experts and those of our partners.
If your business has been reevaluating its processes, looking to replace legacy technologies, or considering how to accelerate to match the speed of the market, we will be happy to talk more about how our vision can enable your strategy for digital success.
Please email email@example.com to learn more.
About the Author
Bill Brewster has been in technology for more than 25 years, leading product development, marketing and sales teams. For the past 15 years he has been a president and general manager, leading global businesses delivering software solutions to the retail industry, primarily in PLM, Supply Chain Management, 3D Design and CAD. Currently, Bill is senior vice president and GM for the Retail Business Unit at PTC (Nasdaq: PTC), where he is responsible for all aspects of the Business including formulating the strategic direction, delivering market leading solutions, maintaining an open dialogue with customers and partners, and driving organizational success. Bill has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Connecticut and a master’s in technology management from the University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School.