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02/25/2022

CSA Exclusive: Partnering for innovation, from source to shelf

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Liza Amlani
Liza Amlani, principal, Retail Strategy Group

Collaboration and transparency are vital for retailers seeking to meet customer needs, starting with product development and ending with order fulfillment.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Liza Amlani, principal of the consulting practice Retail Strategy Group, about major technology trends currently impacting the retail industry. Amlani, who has worked with retailers including Walmart, Nike, and Ralph Lauren Europe in a 20-plus-year career, focused on how retailers are opening up multiple areas of the enterprise to enable supply chain collaboration and responsiveness, from source to shelf.

Collaborative sourcing
“We are seeing sourcing partners work more closely together,” said Amlani. “The product creation and development teams are using the same platform to make real-time decisions for product fit and testing.”

According to Amlani, retailers and their external sourcing partners can obtain numerous benefits from using collaborative platforms, rather than working together using more traditional communication technologies.

“A lot of retailers still have archaic ways of working with their sourcing partners,” Amlani said. “Many retailers are still using email and zip files to send tech packs.”

Instead, Amlani advises retailers to invest with their sourcing partners in the same product lifecycle management (PLM) tools. She says a joint PLM investment will produce faster time to market, among other benefits.

“You can create a product at the same pace with your partners and digitally transform product creation,” said Amlani.

Digitalized sampling
Amlani said retailers can save time and expense in their product development process, while also helping the environment, by leveraging digital innovation in the product sampling process.

“Using digital twins (photorealistic, 3D virtual replicas), retailers can save so much money by reducing physical sampling,” stated Amlani. You can go to market more quickly and cheaply by reducing the number of physical samples you have to produce and eliminating guesswork in buying extra materials.”

In addition, Amlani said that replacing physical samples with digital twins enables retailers to increase the sustainability of their product development process.

“Sustainability is critical right now,” said Amlani. “It’s super important to align with what the customer wants, which is more sustainable practices by the brands they patronize.”

Amlani also recommends that retailers consider deploying 3D printing technology to assist their creative teams with specific aspects of product development for apparel, shoes and accessories (such as handbags).

“3D printing is a great way for creative teams to test and innovate with materials such as zippers, logos, and embroidery,” she said. “There is so much waste in developing these materials that can be eliminated before going to market. Instead, 3D printing can let your creative team can focus on delighting the customer.”

The right product at the right place and time
Since customers now have visibility into the products they want to buy, across retailers and channels, they never had before, Amlani said retailers should invest in technologies that ensure easy access to the items shoppers want to buy.

“Planning is in the spotlight,” said Amlani. “Machine learning analytics can take away the guesswork of having the right products in the store. Retailers need to accelerate planning innovation this year. If you don’t have the right product, the customer shifts elsewhere. You have to deliver what customer wants, because they have more choices than ever before.”

As part of this increased focus on merchandise planning, Amlani said store associates should be equipped with guided selling tools. Retailers also have to be sure they know where specific products are at any point in the supply chain, even in the face of continuing supply chain disruption.

“There is a lot of innovation in technologies for inventory visibility and track and trace capabilities,” she said. “An increasing number of manufacturers are RFID-tagging products at the factory. In addition to letting you trace where a product is, RFID protects products from a loss prevention perspective, including while they may be delayed at a port. And it lets customers confirm that a product was sourced and assembled ethically.”