What you don’t know could hurt you

  • Merchandise Manager finding missing information
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No matter what function you perform in your buying office, information is key to getting the job done right. Managers, planners, buyers and allocators all need to have the right information to piece together the merchandise puzzle. But far too often in retail, information is hard to get. And what you don’t know could hurt you.

Especially if your environment is driven by Excel, information can be extremely difficult to get and share. Spreadsheets are great insulators for data. Information is hard to bring in and export without lots of formatting or manual data entry. Whether you’re blissfully ignorant or desperate to get the full picture, there are some serious things you might not know.

Sales data

Knowing how different types of items have performed in the past, and how items are trending now, is extremely important for getting the right buy quantity for the current buy plan. And just having access to the sales data isn’t enough. You need to be able to work with it as well, to see how different products have performed at different types of locations. Having outdated, incomplete, or otherwise problematic data can skew your buys, and hurt your financial results.

What the open-to-buy looks like

The open-to-buy is a living, breathing thing that’s constantly changing and evolving. And the buyers who are beholden to it need to always have the latest information. When there’s a change to the open-to-buy, that information needs to get shared with everyone in the merchandising department, and quickly. The lag between the time of the update and the time when everyone is using the right version is an opportunity for troublesome mistakes to be made.

What the assortment looks like for every cluster

Sure, your style-out meeting is a great chance to see an assortment altogether. But how often is every store getting the complete assortment? Probably never. Most buying organizations have no way of seeing how each store’s unique needs affect what its assortment looks like. And if you’re not careful, you could end up with unattractive results. If the hot color for the season is red, can you be sure all of your stores have enough complementary colors, or is there a chance some of them will look like a Valentine’s Day depot?

See also: 7 Things You Need To Automate For Your Buyers Right Now

What the updated buy plan looks like

Managers have the tricky job of making sure all the different buys in the organization work together to create compelling assortments that have just the right mix of products for every store. But roll-ups tend to take forever and managers can end up working with information that’s days out of date. Negotiations move fast and timelines are tight. When you have to wait a few days to spot a mistake after it’s made, you risk not being able to fix it.

How buying decisions are really made

When merchants commit to a buy, do you know how they really came to that decision? There are two components to this. Firstly, each product needs to be the right fit for the assortment. All of its attributes need to work together to be attractive to the customer. Second, each product needs to be profitable. The buy quantity needs to match up with customer demand so it doesn’t sell out, and so it doesn’t need to be cleared out.

If you don’t have all of the right information, you can’t know how those buying decisions are being made. Much of the talent that buyers bring to a retail organization is their intuitive knowledge of fashion and their ability to spot the trends and buy accordingly. That can’t be replaced, but there needs to be a data-driven component as well. Estimates or gut feelings aren’t sufficient to make decisions that really come down to numbers. You need to know that buyers are following a methodical approach that combines their expert knowledge of the trends with solid evidence based on data.

Free ebook: 5 Ways To Fix Your Assortment Planning

How do you get the full picture?

When there’s so much information missing or inaccessible you might be able to make good educated guesses, but it’s impossible to make smart, data-based buying decisions. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do within the merchandising department to make this information more freely available.

Start by creating a central hub for everyone within the organization so that managers, planners, buyers, and allocators can all work together and see what each other are doing. This needs to go beyond the typical practice of placing people in cross-functional pods. Create a platform that allows people to share information instantly and automatically across the entire organization. This helps get teams on the same page and makes sharing information a part of your team’s culture.

Next, connect your systems to that hub. Bring in your historical sales data, merchandise financial plans, buy plans, purchase orders, etc., and put them all in the same place. Make it dynamic so the latest version of every plan is immediately accessible. This gives everyone in your organization access to the highly accurate information they need. It speeds up access to information so you have more time for analysis and interpretation. An assortment planning solution can help keep all your data up to date and accessible to those who need it.

Finally, get your retail store clustering under control. Ideally, you should cluster based on customer demand before you buy assortments. This helps improve the information buying decisions are based on. It also gives you a better opportunity to see your assortments together before they’re bought, preventing unsightly mistakes.

See also: Why Your Retail Store Clustering Method Doesn’t Work

The fact is there’s no room for error like there was even a decade ago. Margins are too tight, foot traffic is falling, and competition is coming from new places many retailers never imagined. Big disrupters of the industry like Amazon and Stitch Fix are using their access to data to win the war. If you’re not making access to information a priority, how will you compete?

What you don’t know is hurting you! But it’s not too late to make a shift to prioritize sharing good information. Your buyers will be able to make smarter decisions, you’ll have more control over your assortment, and everyone who supports merchandising will be poised to change your customer experience for the better.

Related Product

daVinci Assortment Planning

daVinci’s Assortment Planning solution gives merchants the power to tailor buys by the customer to improve sell-thru and ensure each assortment is profitable from the start.

Learn more about the product: daVinci Assortment Planning
Assortment management

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