Chances are, your company has been using spreadsheets to plan assortments for the last 20 years or longer. It’s pretty much the industry standard. You give buyers their templates, they punch in the numbers, and everything goes along as it should.
Except there’s been a big shift in the industry over the last 20 years. Retailers are under more pressure than ever, and profit margins are shrinking.
See also: What Is Assortment Planning
The single most important and urgent reason to stop using spreadsheets immediately is inventory is your biggest investment. Your company may be spending a billion dollars or more annually on inventory. That’s a huge number!
Buyers are making thousands of decisions each year about what items to buy, and in what quantities. They’re buying the assortments that could make or break your brand. They’re spending thousands of dollars at a time without batting an eye. And you’re trusting a buy plan worth hundreds of millions of dollars to manual spreadsheets.
When you step back from the situation, it sounds absurd. Especially when you consider all the technology your company has invested in other areas. Your HR department wouldn’t dream of tracking employee hours in Excel. Store managers aren’t using spreadsheets to total up their daily sales numbers. They use software solutions to manage these tasks for them. Most retailers even use a software solution for merchandise financial planning. Why is buying different?
The single most important business function for a retailer (it’s in the name) is buying and reselling inventory. It is madness that Excel is considered a good enough tool to keep track of the primary core function of your business. You need a better tool.
Aside from the massive risk of using the same tool to plan assortments that cousin Sally uses for her household budget, there are other ways spreadsheets just don’t stack up.
Spreadsheets are slow. When you get too much information crammed into a workbook, it can take a long time for calculations to update. It’s not uncommon for buyers to wait 30 minutes or more for their spreadsheet to update anytime they make a change. That’s a big waste of time.
Spreadsheets are ugly. They don’t handle images well, and buyers can’t see their assortments in one place without building a storyboard. How can buyers possibly create a compelling assortment if they can’t visualize what your customers will see?
Spreadsheets don’t allow for easy reporting. Getting a roll-up is a chore for everyone involved. Buyers have to spend hours doing data entry, and managers have to wait around for information.
Spreadsheets can’t handle the amount of data you need. Ideally, you need the functionality to tailor each product buy by customer preferences and other attributes like country, currency, climate, and sales channel. The level of precision required by today’s retailers exceeds the practical limits of what Excel can handle.
Spreadsheets can’t integrate with other business functions. Buyers need to be able to access merchandise financial plans inside their buy plans. They need built-in access to historical sales data and forecasting figures. They need to be able to initiate a purchase order without having to transcribe anything. Spreadsheets lock information out, and trap information in.
There are hundreds of reasons you need a better tool than Excel for assortment planning. These are just a few. But the reality is that you need to advance your business to compete in this new era of retail and Excel just can’t keep up.
Instead, you need a tool that’s built to help buyers do their jobs. A proper assortment planning tool eliminates the kinds of errors Excel is notorious for, like broken formulas and manual overrides. A proper tool works quickly, has visual tools and reporting built in, and integrates seamlessly to give buyers all the information they need in a single place.
It’s time to stop taking risks with your most important asset, and improve productivity while you’re at it. It’s time to invest in a better tool than Excel for assortment planning.