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What Walmart Learned When it Tried 3-D Technology

Walmart’s director of technical design, Denise Scott, delivered a down-to-earth update on the retail giant’s foray into 3-D technology during Product Innovation Apparel in New York City on Monday.

“We’re basically walking right now and we’ve been doing this a year,” Scott shrugged, dashing the hopes of any misinformed attendee that assumed such a big shift could be a walk in the park. “There were a lot of things behind the scenes that we didn’t expect to have to deal with.”

Back in April 2015, Walmart enlisted Accenture to research and identify the major players in the 3-D game. Ultimately, the retailer chose Browzwear in December for what it outlined would be a one-year pilot. The budget was approved in February and the project kicked off in April.

The goal: to develop and show to the buyer at the sketch review in May two styles of girls’ activewear created by two suppliers using 3-D technology. But that’s not how things played out.

“We didn’t make it. We didn’t get what we needed,” Scott shared. “We had our sample from one supplier but we didn’t create internally what we needed to create. We thought in May we were going to be started on that first part of the pilot and it didn’t happen that way.”

Though the initial project outline had Walmart evaluating KPI (key performance indicators) and proposing next steps at the end of September, Scott revealed that just getting through the pilot was going to be a one to two year process.

“We’ve been kind of fumbling around, figuring out what was what, doing some training, learning to walk, learning to use the 3-D system, figuring out where we’re going next, doing some process managing,” she explained. “We think we want to use 3-D at sketch review but that means we have to do a lot more work at the front end, way earlier, to get there.”

Another piece of Walmart’s 3-D puzzle is that suppliers, in some cases, develop 80 percent of its products, so before a system can be rolled out company-wide it has to be compatible and cost-efficient.

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“Walmart does not create from the ground up. We’re not necessarily an innovator,” Scott said matter of factly. “We have three different avenues or spaces that we work in as far as creating and developing product. When we first looked at 3-D we looked at what was the best software for us but also at what all of our suppliers going to be doing as well.”

Currently, Walmart requires one sample and a CAD of other samples for its assortment definition meetings, and then sampling in all colors at its finalization meeting. Once the company gets its 3-D game down pat, it hopes to either eliminate one of those milestones or cull down on samples used in a milestone.

However, Scott pointed out to the people in the room who are considering 3-D software, “You’re not going to necessarily use it the way you started out thinking you would use it.”