The importance of digital technologies in retail, footwear and apparel product development continues to grow each year – but few companies have yet figured out how to unlock its true value.

The biggest advances are being seen in the areas of 3D digital product creation and advanced analytics, according to a new survey of executives from over 40 companies across North America, Europe and Asia.

And in line with past research, 3D product design and voice of customer remain the starting points for 3D digital product creation and advanced analytics, respectively.

The annual research is released by consulting firm Kalypso and produced in collaboration with PI Apparel and Indiana University Kelley School of Business Center for Education and Research in Retail.

Respondents once again rate 3D design tools highest in business value, importance and current spend, though this year's research indicates an uptick in value and planned investment in capabilities and technologies beyond 3D product design – including digital sampling, virtual style-out and assortment visualisation.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented (AR) remain laggard technologies with over 50% of respondents not knowing when they will invest. Technologies to watch – rated as important but not yet attempted – include virtual showrooms, material visual database and 3D integration to product lifecycle management (PLM)/master data management (MDM).

While the vast majority of respondents believe it's important to centralise digital assets (86%) and allow global access (95%), only 8% have connected their digital processes and tools across the product lifecycle. Respondents are divided on whether they have the right infrastructure in place to achieve a connected digital platform that unlocks the value of digital technologies and assets.

This year, funding as a top barrier for digital technologies has been replaced by process and culture change. Talent and staffing digital programmes continue to be a challenge however, with 77% of respondents indicating that new roles are required to close significant gaps between current capabilities and future needs.