Advancements in digital solutions are disrupting the product development value chain from ideation to point of sale. While this creates opportunities for new entrants, it leaves legacy retailers behind.

Retailers must shift their product-to-market processes to be more digitally enabled, better utilizing 3D tools, AI, and advanced analytics. Those that don’t will fall further behind, as the old ways of operating no longer work.  

Only 36% of retail CEOs think their organization has the right digital skills and capabilities, and 66% plan to increase investment in digital tools, according to our 2023 executive survey on digital transformation. To drive meaningful change, these executives need to ensure they’re investing in the right tools and changing their ways of working alongside implementation. 

Companies still planning with old tools face an inventory nightmare exacerbated by COVID-related supply chain disruptions, prolonged lead times, and delays in production. Brands began product development earlier than before to mitigate these issues, but by the time products hit the market, consumers often wanted something else. This erodes customer loyalty levels, which are at an all-time low. The inventory glut of products people no longer want leads to markdowns which lower margins, a blow to retailer profits already declining due to higher rates and operating costs.

Fast, nimble, digital-first players continue to gain market share by embedding the latest digital and design technologies into their processes. They deploy AI to test customer trends and use digital design and virtual collaboration tools to develop products faster. This in turn allows brands to quickly react to new trends and offer products that sell better. 

But retailers that implement technology without a clear plan often end up with disconnected tools that lack defined processes and roles. To avoid this problem, here is how retailers should think about evolving their product creation process: 

Turn inflexible supply chains into agile networks

Automate your supply chains through technology like RFID and AI to provide full visibility across every step. This way, teams can better track production and transit, so they can create immediate alerts around any delays. Digitized fulfillment capability, predictive demand planning, AI-driven forecasting, and distribution center automation redirect products to the right channel at the right time, reducing inventory levels. Real-time manufacturing information helps product and merchandising teams proactively identify problematic SKUs before product even leaves the factory. These changes combine for a more agile and responsive supply chain. 

Move to all-digital design, development, and merchandising

Shift from 2D sketch to 3D design using new technologies and software. Your 3D designs can seamlessly integrate into virtual line plans that increase collaboration and reduce reaction times. Virtual collaboration tools help share inspiration, determine line architecture, and compare options to quickly select colors, prints, or graphics. Updates and cross-functional reviews happen in minutes while manual tasks—such as Tech Pack creation—are automated, which speeds up the product development cycle. Global and regional teams can leverage virtual mock-store environments to align on visual presentation and inventory decisions, and share execution directions instantly with visual merchandising teams. These shifts all save time and money. 

Drive all decisions through consumer insights

Share consumer insights through live dashboards and interactive tools to better empower decision making across the organization. Digital design allows for consumer testing before physical samples are created, so product and merchandising teams have real-time customer feedback. Consumers can experience virtual storefronts as well, providing feedback before retailers invest in physical stores and experiences. Engaging customers throughout the process provides greater customer alignment with the finished product, which boosts sell-through. 

Enable micro-curation to drive consumer loyalty 

Enhance your digital selling capabilities with AI-generated models and digital renderings that present your product online across a variety of situations. These realistic models of every body type, age, size, and skin tone allow retailers to cater to a wider, more diverse group of consumers. And when consumers interact with 3D renderings, they are more engaged with your brand, which leads to higher conversion.

Retailers face a significant challenge: higher inventories, margin erosion, and loss of market share. Given ever-rising shifts in customer loyalty and an uncertain economy that may further reduce consumer spending, it’s clear that retailers need to shift now to avoid losing out to competitors. 

Those that enact an end-to-end, digitalized product-to-market process will maintain and even grow market share through speed, agile tools built for change, and a direct line of communication with customers. 

Our four recommendations will allow retailers to right the ship before it’s too late. While integrating the latest technology is important, the tools alone won’t save a brand without an effective operating model transformation across the product-to-market process.