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How Retail Product Lifecycle Management Has Transformed

The retail industry has been undergoing significant transformation driven by newly developed technologies designed to help retailers adapt to constantly evolving consumer trends.

Retail Product Lifecycle Management (Retail PLM), which is a product workflow solution, is a very common solution considered by the retail industry. In most cases, retail PLM is designed to assist buyers, merchandisers, quality, supplier compliance and sourcing teams in the development of private-label products. Retail PLM combines mechanical, electrical and software engineering with the use of computer-aided critical path management and workflow processes that can generate large amounts of data used to further optimize private-label product development.

However, the rigid structure of these heavily upfront design systems, which were created in 1985, have lagged behind the actual needs of today’s retail industry.

Legacy retail PLM solutions

Legacy PLM solutions are based on the traditional retail business models, coined “the product lifecycle,” in which retailers communicate and collaborate internally about new product concepts and are able to see these concepts through their eventual design. When the traditional retail PLM solutions were created, retail “private label” was relatively new, and PLM solutions developed in the 1980s fit perfectly to enable faster concept to design for the limited and small scale private-label operation.

However, fast forward to today’s world, what we are seeing is huge expansion for retail private label— more than 50 percent market share in parts of Europe and over 20 percent market share in the United States. Today’s retail industry sees private-label product development as their ticket not only to keep and grow their customer base, but also their profits.

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True concept to delivery lifecycle solutions

The retail industry and its beloved private label has evolved a great deal since the 1980s and with these advancements spawned new technologies for product development, product management, sourcing, quality assurance and supplier management. These advances cover concept to design, much like the original retail PLM solutions, but the latest innovations also go much deeper covering all needs in the “end-to-end” product lifecycle process. Legacy PLM solutions stop at a certain point very early in the product lifecycle, and few actually go through to product delivery stage and cover sourcing, quotations, sample management, quality assurance, supplier management and supply chain stops along the way.

Buyer beware

True end-to-end (concept to delivery) product lifecycle management solutions can be hard to find due to the nature of the legacy software business. Legacy software companies that built their business on PLM solutions have added new features/functions and integrated other legacy software pieces over the years. These consist of a mix of individual pieces resulting from years of development—meaning they are fragmented, mask weaknesses and give the appearance of an end-to-end solution. Pieces on top of pieces are attached to each other—initially showing an acceptable answer to the complicated retail product lifecycle process—but this does not mean these pieces work well together and eventually will have a negative impact on the communication and collaboration that the system can offer.

Do concept to delivery solutions really exist?

End-to-end, concept to delivery solutions do exist and are flexible, upgradable, large scale, user-friendly, SaaS (software as a service) platforms that can offer management of large amounts of data, spanning across multiple retail teams and ultimately bridging the gaps within the end-to-end product lifecycle process. Unlike legacy PLM solutions initially designed to cover multiple industries (automotive, aerospace, retail, apparel, footwear, heavy machinery, etc.), today’s innovative solutions are uniquely designed to cover a single industry’s unique challenges and be a long-term answer to a specific industry, which has always been driving force behind the development of the CBX retail cloud platform.

As retailers scale their private-label operations, they must look toward the latest in retail PLM technologies that will provide industry-leading tools to manage the influx of product management needs, an increase in the amount of supplies managed, the need for greater quality compliance and an overall increase in the supplier and factory sources needed. The retail industry will need to seek one solution that can manage development and production, all the way through sourcing, quality and delivery (end-to-end product lifecycle).

Mark Hudson is global vice president of marketing at CBX Software.