“I like to find what I’m looking for, when I don’t know what I’m looking for.”
These words were spoken during the Apparel East conference a few weeks ago, and they echoed in my head as I sat down to write about Parker Avery’s recently published research study, “Unraveling the Mysteries of Assortment Planning.” As a retail marketer and consultant, as well as having worked in the retail and food service industries for many years, I cannot walk into a store or shop online without scrutinizing the products offered, marketing tactics, staff behaviors and overall atmosphere.
At first glance, the above sentiment seemingly speaks only to the products offered (the assortment), but it really blends all elements that make up a shopping journey.
In our Assortment Planning study, we focused on objectives, challenges and practices from the viewpoint of over sixty retail professionals, including the most important elements, and plans or considerations for the near future. We also highlighted key insights based on our experience in helping retail clients achieve success with Assortment Planning. Ultimately, we found that there is still a variety of ways retailers are handling and leveraging Assortment Planning, and surprisingly, a large majority are still using spreadsheets and / or custom developed applications to handle this capability, despite the emergence of commercial assortment planning solutions over the last decade.
We uncovered how retailers are beginning to use clustering to drive planning decisions, but its use is also quite varied. As with Assortment Planning, some retail models simply do not necessitate clustering. Further, integration with other merchandising processes and systems such as item planning, merchandise financial planning (MFP), product development, purchase orders, etc. is becoming increasingly important for data integrity and analysis, as well as to drive efficiencies.
In the strategic effort to become more “customer-centric,” we also confirmed our belief that Assortment planning is unquestionably a high priority on many retailers’ agendas. As such, Parker Avery believes retailers will continue to refine their Assortment Planning tools and skillsets over the next few years, and solution vendors will also focus efforts and investments on aligning their solutions to meet the retail industry’s discriminating requirements.
This is great news for retailers, solution vendors and – most importantly – consumers, who are more time-starved and capricious than ever before. But as mentioned earlier, the opening statement actually speaks about more than just the products offered. To truly meet today’s shopper expectations, the holistic shopping experience must be in place to convince the consumer that they’ve “found what they’re looking for” (even when they didn’t realize what they were seeking). This can mean the way the store staff acknowledges and handles shoppers as they enter and traverse the store, how well merchandising is executed according to plan-o-grams and / or corporate standards, how efficiently products are moved from the receiving dock to the sales floor, how promotions and pricing are handled, how smoothly the transaction is processed, and more.
These elements, combined with a solid Assortment Planning strategy and integrated, supporting tools, make up what Paul Harvey would have said is, “the rest of the story” in achieving meaningful retail results. We would like to sincerely thank those who participated in the study, and look forward to witnessing how this strategic area evolves over the next decade.