Retail merchandising sounds like a fun job, but we in the industry know it can be incredibly difficult. Timelines are tight, budgets are even tighter, and hundreds of moving parts need to work in sync to create assortments that excite customers and deliver financial results.
Given the current state of the industry, it’s vitally important that KPI goals are met. Buyers need to adhere to financial plans and meet receipt or open-to-buy goals. Buy quantities need to match customer demand. The pressure is intense. And when you have teams of managers, planners, buyers and allocators all working beyond their capacity, it becomes necessary for people to cut corners when it comes to process.
One of the most common problems we see in retail organizations is the inconsistent use of merchandise planning and assortment planning solutions. This is especially true for retailers that use spreadsheets to manage their buys. Over time, buyers create workarounds, fudge formulas, and manipulate data to get the desired results.
As personal processes evolve, you can end up with a situation where two people doing very similar jobs use very different tools. And as different people follow different processes, mistakes become harder to catch, and reporting becomes less reliable.
See also: What Is Assortment Planning?
It also becomes harder for managers to cascade information. Important updates can go unnoticed or be ignored. Managers and teams alike can be surprised to learn that what they thought was a standard process doesn’t match up with reality at all.
Working under pressure can lead to communication breakdowns. A massive amount of information is being generated and shared with every planning season. But when people are stretched thin, details can be missed.
As information moves through the workflow from planners to buyers to allocators there’s often a gap in feedback, meaning people never find out whether their efforts were successful – or if their plans were even used as intended!
Lateral communication can be a problem spot as well. Imagine you have two buyers in different departments negotiating with the same vendor. When information moves slowly, those buyers may never realize they missed an opportunity to combine their bargaining power and get a better deal. Depending on the size of your organization, simple communications like this could be falling through the cracks every day – and costing a lot of money.
It’s true that most organizations are at risk of becoming misaligned, but it is possible to take action to solve these kinds of problems.
First, listen to your merchants! They are immensely talented people who are tasked with selecting the perfect products that can make or break your brand. They have a deep understanding of their product and their customers, and they’ll tell you what they need to do their jobs better. Buyers need to be able to work on a single platform, with one version of the truth. They want to succeed, and they’ll tell you what they need their tools to do.
Next, provide consistent tools that are easy to use. Spreadsheets are not capable of handling the amount of information required to manage buys properly. And when buy plans are made by following different processes, they can’t be compared apples-to-apples. Teams need tools that give them flexibility and allow them to share information easily and automatically. We are constantly seeing retailers invest in tools for other teams – iPads for front-line employees is one example – but maintain status quo in the back office. This is a big mistake. You need to fix the foundation before you paint the walls.
Case study: How GUESS? Inc. buys better using daVinci
Finally, encourage team members to share information and make it easy for them to do so. This doesn’t need to be complicated or add meetings to busy schedules. It can be as simple as asking allocators to share their understanding of customer demand with buyers so they can see where they might improve on their buys. It’s up to managers to identify what data needs to be shared among people and incentivize staff to follow through. Providing tools that make it easy (or automatic) to share information will help ensure people see this as a help rather than hindrance.
It can be difficult working in a large team even in ideal circumstances, so tough times are when it’s most important to emphasize communication and teamwork. Tough times are also when it’s most tempting for people to go off book. Giving people the tools they need will help them meet your expectations, and make your team more successful.