Retail Technology Enables Digital-First Approach
Technology is building a new foundation for eCommerce and the digital shift. New innovations like headless commerce, expedited checkout and collaborative software are making it easier for traditional retail brands, as well as direct-to-consumer (D2C) companies, to get products to market and give consumers a seamless shopping experience.
“The shift to digital and the shift to direct to consumer is palpable, especially during COVID,” Matt Field, CEO and co-founder of collaborative retail software company MakerSights, told PYMNTS. “We serve brands that are strictly wholesale, as well as brands that are embracing the direct-to-consumer wave. Part of what they’re grappling with is that even if the majority of their revenue still comes from wholesale, they now have to compete with D2C brands that are operating in a much more streamlined way, with fewer barriers to production. And even if you’re still are reliant on Dick’s Sporting Goods or Macy’s or Nordstrom, you’re trying to figure out how you can have key account meetings happen on a much more frequent basis. But without being able to travel during the pandemic, it’s tough.”
MakerSights is one of the technologies that is making it easier for brands to be digital-first. It started as a fairly typical “test and learn” model, collecting feedback for supplier brands and retailers on new product introductions or existing products in the market.
The company’s new product is called Digital Line Review. The best way to understand it is through a hypothetical. Suppose a running shoe company like Hoka One One (an actual MakerSights customer) is developing a new model for the 2021 marathon season. Before the pandemic, the team could meet at headquarters to review designs, debate color schemes and even evaluate customer feedback, all while factoring in the territorial and personality quirks that come along with the process.
Enter the pandemic. The headquarters is closed. Travel to off-site locations is forbidden. But business goes on. Most companies, according to Field, were left to carry on with their design work using awkward Zoom calls, Excel sheets and iPhone photos.
MakerSights’ Digital Line Review allows companies to go faster and further with digital design, providing the software needed for a collaborative review process. Instead of product printouts and physical samples, users can access 3D renderings, feedback from merchants and sales teams, and consumers’ results, all in one place.
“COVID-19 has undoubtedly disrupted our usual review meetings process, but it’s also provided us an opportunity to refine them to be more collaborative, efficient and interactive,” said Gretchen Weimer, global vice president of Product for Hoka One One. “Digital Line Review has drastically improved the dialogue between regions and made it more dynamic and transparent.”
It has also made it easier to develop smaller batch products for online distribution. If the aforementioned HOKA running shoe received positive feedback from regional teams in Los Angeles but was panned by the Northeast region, the Digital Line Review could allow for the shoe to be customized for L.A., and sales projections could eliminate the Northeast from the P&L statement.
Digital Line Review is also in use at Nike, Levi’s, Ralph Lauren and lululemon. Before the pandemic, it was used more as a feedback evaluation tool. Since COVID-19, it has morphed into a productivity tool for remote teams. According to a recent survey of over 280 U.S. product and merchandising professionals conducted by MakerSights, 57 percent said their most critical challenge was the loss of productivity due to the pandemic-triggered shutdown. Forty-six percent called specifically for collaboration software to streamline operations, improve efficiency and increase confidence in decision-making within their organizations — highlighting a need for new solutions that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.
Field spent four years at Birchbox and has served on the digital advisory board at American Express. His time at both companies, and as CEO of MakerSights, has given him a front-row seat to the radical changes affecting retail, even the changes that preceded the pandemic.
“When the consumer moves fully to digital, I don’t think they’ll go back to stores at anything near the same rate they used to,” Field predicted. “Online is where everything will happen. And so even if brands are still selling through wholesale, they’re going to need to pretty radically increase the agility, responsiveness and speed with which they make products. The value proposition we are most focused on is building the infrastructure to allow brands to do that in a really effective way. In an ideal world, production and review should be completely seamless, and we want to facilitate that for the internal decision-makers who are selecting the actual lines that get produced.”