To stay relevant in today’s retail landscape, agile retail planning requires full-spectrum visibility and orchestration between all parties. This enables the organization to turn insights into actionable plans and leverage trends before your competitors do. It’s the speed by which you can do this, in as fast and efficient, yet systematic way that ensures you are first to market. In other words, agility is mission-critical to your survival in these challenging times.
Yet, the retail merchandising process is proliferated with manually intensive, decade-old tools which are too rigid to effectively respond to the dynamic environment it finds itself competing in today. Manual spreadsheets sitting on individual team member’s desktops are inaccessible to anyone else in the organization. Data must be manually entered and manipulated with inconsistent processes and calculations. Decision-making is often compromised and delayed because of these outdated tools and practices.
Agility is more Critical Now than Ever
According to a McKinsey Global Survey, “on average, respondents in agile units are 1.5 times more likely than others to report financial outperformance relative to peers, and 1.7 times more likely to report outperforming their peers on nonfinancial measures. The survey measured financial performance as the revenue, growth, market share, cost efficiency, and profitability of respondents’ performance units, relative to units at competitors’ organizations that do similar work, and nonfinancial performance as performance units’ development and innovation (that is, of products, services, processes, and/or solutions), responsiveness to customer needs, time to market, productivity, and employee engagement, relative to units at competitors’ organizations.”
Simply put, agile organizations are more productive and profitable. In this challenging economy, agility is imperative to survival. For merchant teams, achieving agility takes a multipronged approach. It requires leveraging and adopting new technologies and consciously move toward a more qualitative and iterative planning mindset. Continuous insight-driven innovative spirit is key to the success of the agile team.
Beyond Simple Automation
When an organization realizes the need to upgrade its tools, it too often focuses on eliminating the loudest and most immediate pain. This is natural, since an organization can easily identify the manual processes that are the greatest complaints from their merchant teams. For example, tying disparate spreadsheets to enterprise PO systems so merchants don’t have to re-enter data in multiple places.
Automating an existing process should be viewed only as the first step to your strategic goal. It is easily the most tangible and visible business challenge to fix. The business case is straightforward – reduce manual data entries and redundancies, increase team productivity, generate labor savings, give leadership trust in the data integrity, and build confidence in decision making.
However, simply automating an existing manual process and calling it done is short-sighted. Left to their own devices, the team’s new freed-up time, will likely be filled with tasks that may not be what you or the organization intended or can garner the greatest value. Instead, the automation project should be structured as a first step in creating and fostering organizational change. Organizations should preempt the automation project with the behavior it wants to replace, once team members are freed from their previous manually intensive tasks. This foresight is critical to institutionalize change.
If you approach your upgrade project from the get-go with a view that the organization can improve beyond simply replacing existing manual processes, you will more likely look for tools that can take you beyond it. Treat automation as a baseline for your search for new tools. Look for solutions that are flexible and have built-in best practices to help you move beyond automation. This is where you will find that not all vendors are created equal. Look for those who understand your business, who can add value beyond the technology, who can help you navigate the change that’s about to come, and who can help you avoid the pitfalls by having been there before.
Agility in the Process – from Concept to PO
In an agile environment, the need for rigid management structures gives way to open collaboration with more proactive doers. To make agile work, retailers need to focus on integrating core agile principles from design through to execution. Reducing multiple data entry points gives all stakeholders more time to think and focus on implementing strategies and better coordination of their planning. Simply put, the agility to be better.
It’s important to recognize your new tool isn’t simply an automation replacement of an existing manual process. You should look for a tool that goes beyond. Rather than simply eliminating multiplicative data points, look for a tool that can be used for the team end to end process. Look to integrate to all internal systems your teams touch. Eliminate not just one but all manual touchpoints. Also, look at how the tool can help you improve the quality of the planning process itself.
A true enterprise solution shouldn’t just replace your manual processes, it should add more value to the quality of your planning. Is the tool built to support your planning process from beginning to end? Is it flexible to support the agility you need when plans change without enforcing a rigid workflow? The true measure of success is when your team uses the tool throughout the entire buy cycle, not just at the end when they need to execute a PO.
Agility to Plan Iteratively and Act
The best assortment management software is one that can incorporate your existing strategies and methods, and be flexible enough to grow with you and help you scale. It should adapt to changing technological trends without costly upgrades. As with all things, the pathways to scaling are many.
- For digital natives, the right solution for a company facing upward momentum will alleviate costly financial mistakes as you expand your inventory and product assortments based on new ways of carving out brand awareness. Growth can often lead rising stars to take on more product categories than they can manage and leave them ill-equipped to navigate the waters of added assortment planning complexities. An automated solution that can adapt to your changing business needs will be invaluable in helping you scale as you grow, allowing your merchants to take on more without growing the team exponentially. Learn how to scale your e-comm business.
- For legacy retailers, the right agile solutions can help brick-and-mortar brands expand effectively in the digital space as they evolve their understanding of their customers. Built-in automation saves hours of repetitive labor with every buy cycle. Time saved can be spent augmenting existing stores to make each more productive and omnichannel oriented while embracing new digital channels and growth opportunities. See survey findings of what buyers say are their biggest challenges.
Smart data narrows the time gap between corporate decision-making and the customer. It brings management decisions in lockstep, with agility, and with the ever-changing mentality of the retail shopper.