Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) has evolved to become a “central lynchpin” for retailers to conduct customer-centric, efficient and effective brand management, according to a recent IDC MarketScape report from IDC Retail Insights.
As retailers continue to focus on performance improvements, a broad spectrum of product lifecycle management capabilities—from product conception to order receipt—can help, especially with private label brands, according to the study, IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Retail Product Life-Cycle Management (PLM) Applications 2012 Vendor Assessment.
“By applying better science to the process, you enable everything that has to do with the art of product introduction and life cycle management to flow better,” reveals Leslie Hand, research director at IDC Retail Insights. “You improve efficiencies, reduce cost, reduce waste, but at the same time, the folks that are right-brained get to focus more on design and color and fit, etc.”
According to the study’s findings, retail PLM allows retailers to harmonize decisions at each step of the product life cycle, resulting in more profitable product launches, fewer product failures, and more business success. As a result, PLM has shifted from merely enabling improved technical specification, sampling and sourcing management processes to enabling faster innovation and product cycle times, with improved regulatory compliance and reduced costs.
“PLM empowers employees to do what they do best and return to their core competencies—designers can design products, supply chain managers can optimize a well-orchestrated and instrumented supply network, and merchants can optimize assortments, efficiently buying and selling products,” Hand elaborates. “By enabling collaboration up and down the supply chain, retailers can not only reduce the cost of doing business, but improve performance for all supply chain partners. Importantly, with retail PLM, the retailer can develop ‘fashion’ products closer to customer demand, enabling fresh and inviting assortments that improve customer loyalty and sales.”
She cites that parts of the process can be recreated in new ways, such as sampling. For example, for companies that have manufacturing overseas, there are often time lags in that process.
“So tools like 3D visualization and even 3D printing, they don’t replace the sampling process, but with them, you can get a lot closer to design—you can do more re-visitations in the product design phase before you actually see what the product looks like,” Hand says.
Ultimately, CG and other manufacturing companies need to innovate faster because customers are finicky and they change their minds and needs very quickly. “Companies need to really manage their product lifecycle events, calendar management and learning to be responsive to unexpected events, logistic challenges, capacity constraints and related lead time,” Hand offers, noting that some are trying to go from what used to be considered a quick concept-to-shelf timeframe of 6-9 months to a more effective 20 weeks with an evolved PLM.
“What if a customer trend changes—what if you can tighten up that process,” she asks rhetorically. “Perhaps it’s an opportunity to effect change before you go launch something you know the market has already moved away from.”
PLM providers (ranging from those that have long histories in PLM and CAD to those that have emerged specifically to serve PLM needs) have increased retail-specific R&D over the last several years, according to the study. As a result, many best practices have emerged, including establishing a common data repository, facilitating collaborative innovation, calendar management and workflow control, automated collaborative sourcing processes, and close attention to regulations and product, vendor, and factory compliance and performance.