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Barriers to Digital Product Creation in the RFA Industry

DPC Research Blog Series #1

Digital Product Creation (DPC) in the retail, footwear and apparel (RFA) industry has gone from a futuristic possibility to common practice in just a few short years.

We partnered with Coresight Research to survey over 250 retail industry decision makers on 18 different digital capabilities to understand the road ahead for discovering, creating, making and selling products. Our research covers the following topics:

  • Barriers to DPC implementation
  • DPC maturity
  • Current and planned DPC investment
  • Use and utility of external and internal resources
  • Technology adoption

View the research report here.

We sat down with members of our RFA practice for a 5-part blog series to expand on that research and to help organizations, like you, understand what those findings mean.

Our first blog will focus on barriers to DPC implementation. According to our recent survey with Coresight Research, the RFA market penetration for DPC expanded from 43% in 2020 to 90% in 2022. Despite this meteoric rise, the survey also discovered that companies are experiencing a number of barriers.

Thanks to Kalypso manager Alison Coddaire and senior technical consultant Chelsea Snyder for sharing their insights on these entry barriers and discussing potential mitigation strategies.

Barrier 1: Lack of Executive Sponsorship

“Getting executive sponsorship is difficult for DPC, particularly in a public company, because it’s challenging to calculate hard ROI,” says Coddaire. “The benefits are there - adapting to DPC improves agility and resilience - but these are soft benefits that are hard to quantify.”

While the direct bottom-line impact of DPC may be difficult to quantify, challenges with executive sponsorship are not - with over 45% of respondents indicating that this is a primary barrier to entry for implementation. Similarly, 36% of respondents suggested that they had difficulty securing the necessary funding, licensing, and equipment from the business.

Coddaire also notes that executives are gradually starting to see the soft benefits.

We see the most success with executives that are willing to lean into innovation and focus on staying relevant.

Barrier 2: Deciding on which DPC Technology to Implement

As DPC implementations become more commonplace, the number of DPC tools has increased rapidly. Even if executive sponsorship is aligned on the need of DPC, 35% of companies indicated that deciding on which technology is the right one to integrate is a major challenge.

“Before selecting what technology to use, companies need to understand the problem they’re trying to solve,” says Snyder. Companies need to allow time to make a decision.

“You have to look at it as an ecosystem, not just one tool,” says Coddaire when asked about selecting the right DPC solution. “When a lot of people talk about DPC, they talk about 3D authoring tools like Browzwear and CLO. These tools are the start, but they aren’t the benefit, they’re part of the cost.

The true benefit of DPC is the connection that a 3D product has with everything else you do in the market.

Your design now carries data with it and can connect to other systems that may need that information. If the ecosystem is set up properly, the data can be leveraged to identify trends, establish KPIs, and reduce time to market – all of which can have a profound impact on the success of the business.

Barrier 3: Lacking Digitally Trained Talent

“In terms of finding talent, it’s kind of a vicious cycle,” says Snyder when asked about the 35% of respondents who identified it as a major entry barrier. Educational institutions are where the workforce is going to learn about authoring tools, but many universities are having trouble finding instructors to teach the software.

If you look at the change curve, you can see the use of these technologies is recent. Even if DPC is widely accepted in industries, schools haven’t had time to update their curriculum and release a whole new generation of designers into the industry.

For those interested in learning more about industry maturity and the ‘Teenage Years of DPC,’ Coddaire suggests watching an Alvanon Techfest presentation on the topic, where she was one of the key speakers.

Despite the current lack of DPC-trained talent in the industry, both Coddaire and Snyder are confident that this is only a temporary shortage. Already the talent pool is starting to grow, as universities and business leaders begin to explore the range of DPC applications.

Closing Thoughts

When asked to give her closing thoughts on entry barriers for DPC implementation, Snyder replied, “Change management is also a huge barrier when a company is starting on its journey. Brands need to invest in it. I’ve definitely seen that adoption of DPC is a lot more effective in companies that prioritize change management.”

Agreeing with Snyder’s analysis, Coddaire went on to highlight the need for companies to develop a strong implementation strategy at a system level and implement it in a phased approach.

“If you try to do it all at once, you’re going to hobble yourself,” warns Coddaire. “This is a nascent technology. Progress over perfection is key to finding success in a digital product creation transformation.”

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