Fashion’s move to digital commerce

How does 3D-design impact the fashion industry? Susan Olivier of Dassault Systemes believes digital commerce is driving fundamental changes taking place within today’s fashion and retail businesses.

For slower retailers and fashion houses, this move to digital commerce threatens their very existence.

Digital commerce is more than just e-commerce in the view of Olivier, who is vice president of consumer goods and retail at the French 3D-design software house, it’s a bringing together of technologies that alter the relationship between customers, retailers and designers, along with the manufacturing and logistics companies that bring the products to market.

Retail’s two big challenges

Olivier sees the two biggest challenges to the retail industry as being the 2009 downturn of the global economy and the rise of the connected consumer.

The downturn forced manufacturers and retailers to examine their supply chains, product design and manufacturing to squeeze out inefficiencies, along with understanding consumer sentiment better.

Designing for inner beauty

“They found they could work differently with suppliers and ask certain questions: How do I design for cost? How do I work on designing for what we call ‘inner beauty’ and maybe change the inner design to take out costs without hurting sales performance or visual performance?

“The brands that survived are those who learnt to do both things very well – work better with consumers and work better with their supplier base.”

Who has the power?

“Consumers, on the other hand, found they had power coming out of the down global economy,” says Olivier. “When consumers buy on price, brand loyalty gets strained.”

The connected consumer also adds further risks for retailers as customers are now better informed than ever before.

“If retailers aren’t careful, the consumer will know more about the product than the poor staff on the floor does, and the consumer will also know which stores have which products in their inventory better than the poor staff on the floor does.”

Bringing together the digital continuum

One of Olivier’s areas of expertise is in product lifecycle management (PLM) – planning the design, manufacturing, marketing and retirement of various products.

A notable feature of the modern consumer goods industry is the compressed lifecycle of products: “It used to be that a lifecycle was 18 months,” says Olivier, “the goal was to get it below 12 months, and for many brands it’s now 12 weeks.”

A scenario Olivier gives is the design process where a rapid virtual prototype can be shared across manufacturers, store managers and focus group.

“I can create models in 3D and look at different options,” says Olivier. “How’s the sole of this shoe going to perform with this upper? Is it comfortable if I make changes? I might send a sample to a 3D printer before I make the mould.”

“I can share it with my visual display teams and my store managers before I commit to production. I can get feedback from my stores and I can share it with my consumer focus groups.

“Now I have the power to do that weeks or months in advance before having to put the knife to the goods. That’s a completely different way of connecting the way companies think about product, bringing it to life and bringing it to market.

“Those are the kinds of things we’re enabling when I talk about bringing together the different points of the digital continuum.

“Now I’m in-store I want to take the same images to educate my sales staff. I want them to take a tablet device and show the consumer what is in the inventory, not just in this store, and I can have it shipped to their home within 24 hours.

“That’s what I mean by digital commerce. It could be online, it could be a kiosk in the store, it could be an iPad that the sales assistant has in front of them.”

Susan Olivier’s digital commerce model is the present-day reality of retail – today’s merchant has to be across consumers’ sentiment along with working closely with suppliers to get products to the customer quickly. The old ways of selling goods, particularly fashion, are over.

Paul Wallbank‘s latest book, eBu$iness, Seven Steps to Online Success, shows how business can get online quickly and cost effectively using web 2.0, cloud computing, social media and e-commerce tools.


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