Retail Technology and the Product Development Circle
The retail industry is changing.
And it all comes down to one central shift, from a combative mindset to a collaborative one.
Today, systems of product development, design, prototyping, manufacturing, and go-to-market strategy are slow, expensive and inefficient. However, a new wave of technology solutions is revolutionizing how a product gets from idea to market.
Everyone saw the internet transform the very nature of what it means to be a “retailer.” All the steps that come before a consumer clicking Check Out on a screen are transforming, too. As a retail technology company with 6 Fortune 500 names on our customer list, we’re seeing it firsthand.
A typical product will go through several stages before it gets to market: idea, market research, ideation, design, prototyping and testing, customer validation, manufacturing at scale, marketing, supply chain and fulfillment logistics, and sale. Next, the same concept may go through a second iteration (new and improved!) or expand into a full line (Keurig 2.0, Keurig Kold), and start the process again.
What currently keeps this cycle lethargic is that brands and retailers either try to do too much in-house, or outsource to traditional agencies. With each of these clunky models every step can take months to a year; just one product development cycle is incredibly long.
These days there are myriad technology solutions making each step of this cycle faster, easier, and better through collaboration. Search AngelList, TechCrunch, or retail technology hub Advancing Retail to peruse the tens of thousands of options available to brands and retailers today. For marketing there’s Hubspot, Mailchimp, Oracle, Visual.ly, and hundreds more. For fulfillment you can turn to Shipwire, Fulfillrite, or Whiplash. Platform88 and Fictiv can help you out with prototyping and manufacturing. And the list goes on.
What’s different about each of these services is that they all place a focus on collaboration between the key players in any given step. The field of marketing technology now promotes conversations between companies and consumers, not preaching. Fulfillment service Shipwire’s mission is to democratize supply chain management. Fictiv and Platform88 leverage technology to bridge the gap between inventors and the manufacturers and prototypers they need in order to create better products more efficiently.
As more brands discover the benefits and adopt more forms of retail tech, the product development model will turn from a disjointed and inefficient path to one adept and optimized circle of collaborative product development.
This transition won’t happen seamlessly or overnight, though. There are a couple factors to keep in mind as the industry goes through this massive overhaul.
No One Can Do It All
The most important thing to remember is to focus. You’re great at one thing, even many things, but you can’t do everything better than everyone else. As we saw with Quirky, no one can do it all perfectly. In case you don’t remember, Quirky is the product development startup who raised $185 million dollars and then filed for bankruptcy just a few years after its founding. One of their biggest problems was that they tried to own every step of product development, instead of specializing in one field that they could master.
In the next few years, working in an optimized “plug-n-play” ecosystem will become the norm. A brand will be able to trust expert technology solutions to develop product designs, prototype, manufacture, handle supply chain logistics, and more, while they focus on bringing the right products to their customers.
Integration Is Key
Imagine a brand develops great designs with the help of an industrial design tech platform, and then wastes all the time they saved trying to find a prototyper. That’s hardly an improvement. Instead, to better the cycle as a whole, the design vendor should offer an integration to a prototyping network in order to directly usher a product from one step to the next.
Integrations, such as the dozens offered by Shipwire, or Zapier, who is essentially an integrations company, will be key to the success of this model. To build a streamlined ecosystem, retail tech companies must reach out, form partnerships, and create a true network.