Dassault’s Consumer Experience Management, Virtually Yours

Product lifecycle management (PLM) for retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) is usually seen as a lighter version of more complex systems used by manufacturing companies to design sophisticated industrial products. Most PLM vendors focus on retailers that are also manufacturing the products they sell, thus making product development the core of their PLM offering for retail. Other features are sometimes present, such as sourcing (used to involve suppliers more and earlier in the product development process), collaboration (for better exchange of information with all internal and external partners), vendor management (to ensure that suppliers understand and follow instructions, as well as local and international rules and regulations), and even crowdsourcing and social product development.

As an analyst dealing with both PLM and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, I am always looking for ways PLM could provide retailers with additional functionality that is not directly related to product development or manufacturing but is nevertheless essential to their success: consumer experience management. After all, your efforts to design and build great products will not reap financial rewards if consumers don’t actually buy your products—in retail and CPG, the utility and quality of the products is not always enough to sell them, and a good product that is also attractive and accessible is more likely to sell very well.

Dassault Systèmes is one of the few vendors offering PLM solutions that specifically address customer experience in retail. I had the opportunity to learn more about these solutions from François Bouffard, VP of Business Development for CPG and Retail at Dassault Systèmes.

How can Dassault Systèmes PLM solutions help retailers improve the customer experience?

Dassault Systèmes’ 3DVIA product line is at the core of its customer experience offering. Consisting of authoring and publishing tools, it allows users to create and communicate their ideas through three-dimensional (3D) representations. Content is created using 3DVIA Composer and published and viewed using 3DVIA Composer Player, while 3DVIA Studio Pro and 3DVIA Store are used for virtual experiences and simulation.

The 3DVIA product line combines with CATIA (for product design), SIMULIA (for realistic simulation), and ENOVIA (for collaboration and process management) as part of a customer experience management solution for retail and CPG. All these tools can be used in various combinations, but the ultimate goal is for retailers to create and manage, via simulations, the experiences customers will have in their retail interactions.

But Dassault Systèmes approaches the customer experience from a wide angle, offering solutions for product behavior both when the product is in store and when it leaves the store and is being used by the customer. This makes Dassault Systèmes’ offering for customer experience both customer- and product-centric, offering functionality for virtual product experience, product ergonomic testing, sales configuration, virtual store and showroom configuration, and virtual consumer shopping experience.

When and how should retailers use the Dassault Systèmes solution for customer experience?

Users of the customer experience offering will typically start with a 3D representation of the product, whose attributes can be changed on the fly to simulate different ways of presenting it to the customer. The very same product, presented in a different light or color, will have a different impact on the consumer. Part of that is already decided during product development, but not set in stone, which allows retailers to change the attributes of the product and create simulations for different scenarios. The fact that it’s done in 3D and that animations are also available makes the simulation interactive and very close to reality.

But the attributes of the product may have a different impact on the customer depending on where it is displayed in the retail space or store. Visual merchandising techniques—whether they are based on common sense or on studies and research—are already used by retailers to position products in the store so that consumers can easily find them while also enjoying the shopping experience. The only thing missing, till now, is a virtual reality of the retail space.

Even though planning a store can be done relatively easy, it is hard to say what would happen if you decided to move a few shelves closer to the entry or the cash register. Most of the time, multiple plans are needed (one for each scenario), they are static (cannot be easily changed), and they are rarely 3D (which makes the simulation less real).

After defining the attributes of the product and planning the retail space, retailers need to place those products on the shelves in a way that will best attract customers. Using Dassault Systèmes solutions for customer experience, retailers can populate virtual retail spaces with virtual products, and experiment with their possible combinations. Furthermore, Dassault Systèmes provides libraries of objects and rules that define their compatibility, but also rules for automatic positioning.

When the virtual products are created, the virtual retail space planned, and the products placed according to the needs of the retailer, the virtual customer comes into play. The virtual customer walks around the store looking for products. The simulation lets users add or remove customers, have different views of the retail space (aerial view or walkthrough), and even monitor the traffic in the store (overall and for each virtual customer).

An example of what you can do with Dassault Systèmes solutions for customer experience

3DVIA Store is used by retailers to simulate store settings and consumer experience by creating scenarios for various product and packaging configurations, placement, and positioning, and to generate instructions and best practices for in-store deployment. The 3DVIA Store product portfolio consists of three solutions:

  1. 3DVIA Store Studio lets users convert 2D pictures into 3D products, configure some of the attributes of the products (shape, dimension, color, etc.) and their packaging (height, depth, width), and place them on the shelves for a more realistic simulation. At the end of the process, users can generate instructions on how to display the products.
  2. 3DVIA Merchandising Optimizer lets users establish merchandising methodologies that take into account the store layout (previously defined) and that can also consider best practices and configurable rules to validate the objectives of the retailer. Retailers and merchandisers can collaborate to improve the predefined rules and create an optimal display methodology.
  3. 3DVIA Store Experience is usually used to review merchandising plans that were previously defined. Its main benefit is that it provides a visual way of collaborating on these plans with other users, but it also allows users to simulate a shopping experience. You can see how the concepts you define will be seen through the eyes of the customer. 

This video shows you what a simulation will look like when the work is done. You can walk through the store, try to find the products you need, look at the packaging or the pricing tags, even read the lists of ingredients or instructions, add to and remove them from the shopping cart, etc.

All these tools are backed up by comprehensive solutions (CATIA, SIMULIA, ENOVIA) and dozens of years of experience accumulated by Dassault Systèmes in product design, development, collaboration, and simulation. To meet the tremendous increase in the use of the Internet, social media, and mobile devices (tablets and smartphones), I expect Dassault Systèmes to offer solutions for customer experience management adapted to these highly dynamic environments. Simulation can be used to gather consumer feedback through online virtual events or games, and it even opens the door to virtual shopping. Don’t be surprised if we’ll soon be able to use a mobile app to find products in a store or customize products by using 3D simulations before ordering them.

To address the need of the retailers to keep customers in store (real or virtual) as much as possible and provide them with a positive experience, PLM vendors will be providing more solutions for consumer experience simulation. Dassault Systèmes is definitely one step ahead of the competition with the solution described in this report.

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