New Study Reveals PLM and Tech Trends in Retail, Footwear, and Apparel

Can you imagine a clothing store where all the racks are arranged not according to size, but by how many Facebook “likes” each garment received? There are no changing rooms, only augmented reality mirrors where you can “virtually” try on whatever you want.

Back at the design studio a new collection is underway, based on feedback gathered from social media. The designer accesses an online materials library where every item has been meticulously screened for compliance.

Customers login to retailer websites and interact with intelligent video overlays to find their perfect shade and size, then drop the item into a virtual shopping cart.

Science fiction? Nope, not really.

The recently published WhichPLM Annual Review 2012 takes a look at some of these new and emerging technologies and explains how they tie into core PLM solutions. From the review, here’s a summary of the top technology and PLM trends in retail, footwear, and apparel for 2012:

The birth of E-PLM. Traditionally, PLM has supported core product development processes – design, sourcing, sampling and manufacture. But today the retail, footwear, and apparel industry demands extended PLM or E-PLM which includes color management, merchandise planning, mobile applications and trend analysis.

Closer Supply Chain Partnerships. As global supply chains become ever more complex, a unified approach (with PLM at its core) is called for. This isn’t just about tracking audits to ensure compliance, it’s about making sure the supply chain adopts standardized technologies and methods.

Green. Ethical. Sustainable. Today, environmental regulation, compliance—with RoHS and REACH, for instance—and sustainability are front and center, and businesses that neglect them risk their brand.

Businesses need to know what substances and materials make up their products – splitting the completed garment down into separate libraries of fabric (raw materials, intermediate, aggregate), trim, labels, components, packaging, cleaning agents, transport mode, process energy and emissions. And then even further to thread, rivets, buttons, seams, dyes, chemical composition, and chemical processing.

Hazardous chemicals found at the Well Dying Factory Limited in China reflected badly on well-known clothing brands

Outsourced manufacturers and suppliers should be able to audit their own processes in a transparent, traceable way. It’s essential suppliers be educated on regulation such as RoHS and REACH. They should have full disclosure of all restricted substances and practices. They should understand the end product’s use and application and themselves show strong corporate governance and ethical compliance practices.

In the past, environmental compliance modules have been retrospective add-ons. Going forward compliance should and will be a foundation strategy of a PLM system.

Shopper Engagement. Retail is responsible for 20 percent of the United States’ GDP, and has the largest workforce of any industry. But the current economic climate has consumers spending less of their disposable income, which in turn is having a devastating impact on retail. Breaking the cycle will mean finding new ways to evolve and engage the consumer.

Seventy percent of retail customers shop online or on mobile devices, and integration between social media, mobile technology, online shopping and physical retailing is vital.

Consumer-facing or storefront technology like that offered by Microsoft and Google is growing in popularity. Microsoft Kinect offers an augmented reality experience to shoppers – using gestures, customers are able to select from popular items and looks before having them superimposed on their digitized selves – turning when they turn and moving when they move. Google Wallet allows for an in-store contactless transaction via an iPhone.

Consumer Power. Retailers can no longer dictate to consumers.

Retailers engage with consumers using social media

Rather, consumers play a greater role in the creation of products. Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are not places to push new collections but to solicit ideas and opinions from consumers. This information is then fed back to core PLM and extend PLM solutions to inform merchandise planning strategy, garment design, store layout and advertising strategies.

Mobile Tech. While customers are engaging with virtual representations of retail products in-store, designers and garment technicians are increasingly reducing their reliance on costly physical sampling with product image capturing and virtual sampling, which can then be entered into a PLM solution quickly and easily.

What new trends do you see in retail, footwear, and apparel?

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