In the realm of retail, it wasn’t too long ago that the merchant was queen (or, if you will, king). But, times have clearly changed, and now retail is as confused as it is purposeful, thoughtful and proactive.
Recently, I was reading Daphne Howland’s RetailDive article “Shoppers Still Want Skinny Jeans and That’s a Problem for Retailers,” where she highlighted how apparel retailers are waiting for something other than skinny jeans to be in demand, and, as hard as they may try, they can’t make the slouchy, boyfriend jean trend stick. The article got me thinking about the retail’s chief merchants and how these roles have changed.
It used to be that the merchants drove the trends and had a supersized role in determining what we wore. But, those days have very much disappeared, as seasonal fashion blends together and, well, frankly, the need to drive those big product trends has changed. But, I would contend that, even in the face of the fickle consumer and the in-charge shoppers of today, there still is a need for the merchant, and perhaps more so now than ever. And beyond that need, I propose … that merchants need to rise up as retail superheroes!
Today’s superhero merchants are the ones who love data, understand that customers have a tremendous amount of choice and that they have to want to shop with you and, finally, understand today’s shopper has to find product that is delightful, appropriately priced, and available wherever and whenever she wants it.
Easier said than done, right?
So, how do you inspire today’s fickle consumer to shop with you?
The superhero framework I outlined in a previous post focused on four keys to success. For merchants to be real superheroes, most of these probably need to come into play in some way or the other..
- Highlight the easy wins
- Evolve over time
- Realize ROI
- Operationalize new metrics
For the merchant, here’s what it takes to earn the superhero cape:
Highlighting the easy wins. For merchants, it’s as simple as driving a strategy to ensure the right product is in the right store at the right time, using and sharing data to drive better decision making. And while it may not be as easy, collaboration with other stakeholders in operations and in the stores is absolutely critical to empower delivery and fulfillment choices for customers. If a product isn’t available in a location, make it dead easy to get that product to the shopper – at no cost and very little effort.
Evolving over time. There are a myriad of technologies and micro-applications that can drive enhanced merchandising strategies in stores – everything from innovative applications around wayfinding and promotional strategies to integrated RFID applications that shows exactly how a product is moving through the store. My advice here is to start small and grow. Identify the biggest points of friction for your shoppers and knock them out first. Then, continue to evolve the use of data and technology to drive better and better shopping experiences.
Realize ROI. Test and measure. Test and Trash. However you define it, test, test, test. And, never stop. Everything the merchant superhero does should have a positive ROI – hard or soft – that can directly impact the customer experience. And, of course, by soft, it can be as simple as re-creating magic in stores that cannot be replicated via digital experiences.
Operationalize new metrics. Finally, the role of the store is changing and so must the metrics used to measure performance. Are same store sales the defining metric for individual performance of a location? I’m not so sure. Retailers should be evaluating the full impact of their stores on shoppers and defining metrics that truly reflect the role of the store in the overall success of the brand.
As we venture deeper into this new shopping year, we are seeing some bright spots brought forth by retail superheroes from a background that often isn’t very bright at all. As everyone has been saying, the consumer is in charge – just give her what she wants and you’ll come out on top. The tricky part, of course, is figuring out what it is she wants.
Join the #retail and #retailsuperhero conversations on Twitter @Bridget Johns & @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.
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