The tried and trusted tool of buyers everywhere has long been Excel spreadsheets. They’re cheap, malleable and they get the job done.
But are spreadsheets the best tools for the job? No.
There are lots of times when a multipurpose tool is acceptable. You can cut a child’s hair with a bowl and a pair of kitchen scissors, and the results will probably be fine. Likewise, a professional hairstylist could probably garner decent results with the same tools, but at the expense of time spent, ease of use, and quality of outcome.
Instead, professional hairstylists prefer to use a variety of tools that are purpose-built for their job. They have scissors of various sizes, shears, electric trimmers, combs, and all sorts of attachments. They invest in professional-grade tools to help them do their job to the best of their ability.
Spreadsheets are the kitchen scissors of the retail world. They solve the problem at hand, but only as the minimum viable option. In order to get professional results, it’s best to use professional tools that allow the user a great deal of precision to get the best results.
In retail, as in haircutting, the quality of results matters. A salon customer’s ultimate goal is shorter hair, but it’s about more than that. A salon customer wants to feel comfortable with her stylist. She wants to have the style that’s right for her. She wants to feel like she’s getting good value for her money. The customer can get her hair cut anywhere. But she chooses a salon for the quality of results.
This applies to retail customers as well. Your customer can buy apparel anywhere. A 10-pack of white t-shirts from Costco achieves the customer’s most basic need of something to wear. But it’s about more than that. A retail customer wants to feel engaged with the brand. She wants to find the style that’s right for her. She wants to feel like she’s getting good value for her money. The customer can buy fashion apparel anywhere. But she chooses a brand for the quality of its assortment.
Your buyers have the power to give your customers that feeling. They know the trends and your customers’ preferences inside and out. But when buyers are forced to use spreadsheets, they lack the tools to do their best work. And customers can sense the difference between an assortment that’s serviceable, and one that’s finely tailored to their wants and needs.
It’s easy to imagine the tools a hairstylist wants to have at their disposal, but what about a fashion buyer? What is it they need that spreadsheets can’t offer?
Buy tailoring and layering. The more closely a buyer can match units to customer demand, the better their category will perform. Buy tailoring allows a buyer to select which groups of stores a product is suitable for, and quickly calculate how many units are needed to satisfy that need. Having the ability to cluster stores using multiple dimensions of customer demand gives you control that you can’t get with a spreadsheet.
Integration with other systems. Buyers waste an incredible amount of time transposing information from one place to another. A purpose-built assortment planning software solution can connect with all of your other systems and put all the information a buyer needs in one place. Historical sales data, merchandise financial plans, design, and purchase orders can all come together in one place.
Instant reports. Spreadsheets are notorious for being very slow to update. Professional assortment planning software puts your data in a central database and makes calculations instantaneous. Managers, planners, buyers and allocators can all get instant access to the latest information with the click of a button.
Visual storyboards. Trying to work with images in spreadsheets is like trying to ride a Zebra to work. It’s possible, but it’s guaranteed to look weird and be way more trouble than it’s worth. Assortment planning software gives you access to storyboards and visual information right within the buy plan.
Better collaboration. When everyone is working in the same database, information is much easier to share. Managers can get instant roll-ups, and cross-functional team members can see what everyone is doing without having to wait for reports. And assortment planning software can help keep large teams on the same page in ways spreadsheets fail.
Fewer errors. Spreadsheets break, formulas get overridden, and data can very easily be manipulated by the user. And don’t forget typos when data is transcribed. But with a software solution, you can make these kinds of errors a thing of the past. No transcribing data means no typos. And a consistent set of calculations ensures you have a single version of the truth.
Faster lead times. Assortment planning software can improve productivity by as much as 25%, so teams can get fashions to stores faster.
Higher margins. Better matching buy quantities to customer demand makes allocation a much easier job. Having the right amount of inventory to allocate reduces over-stocks and under-stocks, and has an immediate positive effect on gross margins.
Spreadsheets may be fine for small businesses, but at an enterprise level, you need to have the right tools to do the best possible job. If you’re still battling with spreadsheets, it’s time to upgrade to a purpose-built assortment planning solution.