Background image: Shoes01 Wireframe01 1

Retail Digital Innovation: Leading Practices for the Product Development Lifecycle Process with 3D

State of the Industry

Retailers and brands can significantly shorten, streamline and disrupt the end-to-end product development lifecycle process by leveraging 3D Digital Product Creation (DPC).

With 3D digital images that depict the true-to-life characteristics and performance of a physical product, companies are gaining many benefits including:

  • Unleashing designer creativity by allowing for more rapid and experimental design iteration
  • Making design decisions earlier in the process before a sample is ever created
  • Generating right-first-time samples by working out design and fit issues digitally
  • Executing line reviews earlier in the process via virtualized assortments
  • Enabling a sell-before-make model allowing co-development and selling of products to buyers before products are physically made
  • Improving fit consistency by assessing each unique fabric reaction and/or pattern manipulation
  • Communicating better with factories on design intent
  • Leveraging 3D images in marketing material and Voice of Customer testing
  • Increasing the ability to attract top talent

Kalypso’s Second Annual Retail Digital Innovation Survey asked respondents about the use cases, prioritization, value and adoption of digital technologies and product development practices.

Survey respondents ranked the most valuable use cases for DPC as follows:

  • Enhancing the creative process, increasing efficiency, and enabling accurate visualization with digital prototyping & sampling
  • Increasing speed in design decision making by leveraging 3D modeling tools
  • Improving communication with buyers and merchants with digital assortment visualization

In addition to the value drivers stated above – sampling, design, and assortment visualization – respondents recognized the value of DPC for downstream business needs – line reviews, marketing, manufacturing, visual merchandising. However, even with clearly recognized importance and value around these technologies, a large gap exists between the recognized value and the demonstrated success.

79% of respondents identified 3D Design Tools as the most important and valuable technology. However, 53% of respondents reported that they are not successful with it yet. Similar success gaps held true for all digital technologies; for each technology, at least 45% of respondents thought it was important with a range of 45% to 63% of respondents not yet successful.

The Success Gap: Why Does it Exist?

With such a large success gap, it is important to understand where the barriers to success exist. There are two types of barriers: Barriers of Understanding and Barriers of Execution. For 3D DPC, there are larger execution type barriers caused by a lack of talent and expertise (53%) as well as a lack of change management capabilities that drive adoption (47%). For companies that are trying to explore or deploy a DPC program, funding to build the program is constrained 47% of the time. This is often tied to a lack of understanding the full value of the program.

Talent and expertise will improve as the technology becomes more ubiquitous. Right now, the technology is new and has only recently started to be taught in schools. For 3D design tools specifically, users not only require design knowledge, but also need the understanding of pattern-making and apparel construction, blending the work of designers and technical designers into one. 3D design tools are becoming the new normal for the industry in the same way that 2D design tools like Adobe Illustrator became the new normal from paper sketching. Whether it is training existing teams, contracting specialists, or hiring from design schools that are teaching these new methods of design, it is critical that the right talent be put in place.

Beyond the change management barriers driven by a lack of talent and expertise, the industry is facing change management barriers driven by the tactile nature of the business. Designers, buyers and consumers alike are accustomed to seeing, touching and holding the product before making decisions. To achieve the benefits of reduced sampling by digitizing the product, these stakeholders will need to be bought in to the idea that they can make decisions without seeing the real product in person. By running side by side tests to start, where you create a product in both digital and real form, retailers can get buy in from stakeholders by proving that the digital product they are seeing is true to life. This will build stakeholder confidence in their ability to make decisions off a digital image.

The 5 Stages of Adoption: The Right Approach for DPC

Knowing that the barriers above are extremely common, we recommend a five-step approach for driving effective digital adoption.

1. Understanding & Curation

Conduct a divergent learning effort to understand the possibilities and the players that exist in the space. Every vendor has differing specialties and with it come pros and cons. It is critical to understand strengths and weaknesses to ensure they best align with your goals and ideal process.

2. Vision & Value Proposition

Establish digital initiatives in support of corporate objectives to ensure relevance and drive value. While digital applications can drive value in many different ways, it is critical to the success of the program that the technology is being applied to meet the current, unique business challenges at hand. It is also important to define the business process and roles/responsibilities of a new digital program up front to best manage the transformative change throughout the adoption.

3. Prototyping & Trial

Design and execute strategic experiments to validate strategic hypotheses. Launch a proof of concept with a vendor that will give your teams the opportunity to ask questions and see the value. The first solution won’t always prove your hypothesis correct, so it’s important to start with a trial. During this trial, pressure test your newly defined process and any new roles/responsibilities that will come from adoption. There will be many lessons learned throughout the strategic experiments which can be leveraged to improve processes and better coach stakeholders along the way.

4. Justification & Roadmap

Convert digital initiatives into a roadmap with clear benefits. Now that you have proven that your proof of concept and process changes can add value, translate your vision, value proposition and experiments into a business case and roadmap. This is critical for getting buy-in from leadership. With a business case in hand it makes a more compelling argument to secure funding that is often lacking.

5. Adopt & Scale

Take successful strategic experiments mainstream. With an established business case and roadmap in hand, it’s time to scale up those successful strategic experiments. By now, there should be enough buy-in from cross-functional teams and leadership to ensure the adoption and scale of the digital technology is a much smoother process.

For more detail, read: Retail Digital Innovation: 5 Stages of Adoption


Creating products in 3D isn’t “automagic.” There is significant effort required to be successful, from redesigning process that fits in the use of these new technologies to implementing new software systems and training all stakeholders. However, the upside of going digital far outweighs the effort and will ultimately require less time, money and effort to develop new products than through the existing physical process.

What to Read Next