In retail, the time it takes to get items on the shelf matters. Consumers look for the newest products, and each retailer wants to stock them first. Speed to market, however, means something different depending on product category and the retailer’s reach.
New products: a lengthy process
Traditionally it’s taken 14 to 20 months to develop an idea into a shop-ready product. Ed Gribbin, president of apparel and data consultant Alvanon, explains that years ago, ‘retailers all followed pretty much the same game plan when it came to developing product.’ The many stages of product development include the creative phase, design ideas, vendor scouting, prototype creation, testing and redesigning, production and shipping. This method worked well as retailers could plan product releases months in advance and sell goods on their own terms with limited time pressures.
Speeding up delivery in an omni-channel world
This has all changed over the last ten years with omni-channel marketing and an increasingly vast range of online and offline offerings. Standing out from the crowd with faster delivery times and a high turnover of new products keeps consumers coming back for more. Amazon and Argos have upped the stakes with same-day or next-day delivery, and Amazon has even invested in drone delivery to bypass highways and byways.
Deborah Weinswig, head of retail and technology at Fung Business Intelligence Centre, explains that the traditional seasonal cycles have been distorted by an increased appetite for new collections. ‘The time it takes for clothing lines to go out of fashion,’ she writes, ‘is significantly shorter than it used to be.’ The Boston Consulting Group reported in 2014 that the time it took for a trend to go from runway to mass distribution had shrunk from one year to three-to-five weeks. Fashion retailer Zara is an exemplar in the face of these new demands: by releasing products every couple of weeks and carrying out the majority of their product creation as near to their home stores as possible, they satisfy customer appetites while delivering on costs and time-to-market.
Food producers embracing SMEs
When it comes to food production, improving speed to market can be tricky. Each new product has to go through a range of tests for health and safety purposes. Some companies opt to deal with smaller retailers because they are often more responsive. Bruce Mills of My Grandma’s of New England, a commercial baker, explains that smaller retail chains often beat the competition to new product: "[Some large stores] don't care if it's the new fountain of youth coffee cake and you eat one bite and live an extra 12 years. They still can't get it on the shelves quickly."