A buyer on a buying trip is inundated with an information and situations where effective decisions have to be made, sometimes instantly. Let’s see how retailers can improve the efficiency of buying trips through the use of technology.
Most people would agree with TS Eliot when he said: “The journey not the arrival matters.” Mention that to a retail buyer on a buying trip, you might get a serious frown. A buyer’s journey begins much before she embarks on that buying trip and ends much after her return. Buying is one of the most critical functions in the retail business. A buyer is someone who is responsible for the planning and selection of merchandise that will be made available in retail channels. For this to happen, a buyer is constantly involved in understanding the product buying patterns in her category. The level of information that a buyer has ranges from customer demand data, product specifications and market trends to financial budgets and vendor catalogs. A buyer needs to be analytical, mobile, flexible, collaborative and decisive to be successful for her and for the category that she represents. She needs to be a wizard and a fortune teller.
One of the most significant activities that a buyer performs is the buying trip. She spends a considerable amount of time planning for the next season’s assortment. To enable this, a buyer has to make numerous trips to vendor locations, sourcing agencies, industry events and trade shows. During these trips, she needs to shortlist merchandise after an analysis of sales data, market trends and vendor catalog. Each product is evaluated against multiple criteria before being recommended by the buyer for further action.
A buyer has been traditionally and extensively dependent on spreadsheets. Prior to the buying trip, she would download all relevant product information from the enterprise business intelligence system. She would then slice and dice this data on the spreadsheets in a way that buying decision parameters can be derived. These will be primarily based on past sales data, markdowns, gross margins and current inventory levels. In addition to these, the buyer also compiles the purchasing information that would comprise open orders, vendor contracts and vendor performance against contractual levels.
Along with the spreadsheet data, the buyer also pulls together vendor catalog information, market intelligence and most importantly approved financial budgets for each merchandise category. It is common to see buyers spending a lot of time to amalgamate all these data into a larger spreadsheet. This master spreadsheet eventually and essentially becomes the “Buying Trip Bible.”
What we see here is that a buyer’s responsibility extends beyond the boundaries of her own organisation. She has to interact with multiple stakeholders who are part of the vendor ecosystem and also personnel from various other departments of her own organisation. She operates in an environment where information availability and effective collaboration is critical. Often this aspect of a buyer’s role is ignored as the focus is mostly on the functions that take place within the boundaries of the retail organisation. There is no better time to focus on improving the buying trip productivity than now.
The industry needs tools that provide information on the move and also establishes that collaboration between all stakeholders is the ammunition that today’s buyers need. A comprehensive mobility-based buying trip solution can provide the buyer ability to capture and collate all merchandise information into a buying folio.
A mobile device can itself function as the agent for capturing all information while the buyer is performing the merchandise tours during the buying trip. The visit and vendor information once made available on the mobile application can then be correlated with the merchandise catalog. The buyer can capture images, specifications, notes and calculations on the mobile device itself. The buyer can also refer to analytics data both for the merchandise parameters and pricing and sales. The analytics view can be leveraged on the mobile device from the retailer’s enterprise analytics systems. Enabling the buying walk on a mobile device frees up the buyer from lugging a heavier computing device through the tradeshow. The mobile application can be made light enough to capture information and refer data that is required on that buying walk. All information captured during the walk can be docked into a buyer’s notebook at the end of the day. The buyer can append all other factors, analysis and recommendations on the notebook application before uploading that into the enterprise merchandise systems.
External integration to market feeds on product and supplier trends and intelligence can also be a great value add. These can be annotated to the visited merchandise from the entire supplier catalog. Digitisation of the catalog and its availability on the mobile device is a refreshing perspective to today’s buyers. To a large extent, this eliminates scribbled, highlighted and dog eared paper catalogs.
Finally, it all comes to collaboration. The buyer has captured all relevant information and finalised recommendations. During this process or subsequent to this, the buyer is required to liaise with a lot of internal departments for specialised inputs. Typically, these interactions would be with buying colleagues, design specialists, finance, marketing, store, etc. A buyer seeks opinion and feedback on the buying selections. Obviously, this requires a platform where all interactions can be highly visible and collaborative.
The need of the hour is a rapid collaborative platform where retailers can themselves establish a buying trip collaboration process and can be made available in a very short duration. There are cloud mobile workflow platforms available today, which can be used towards this requirement of the industry. Cloud can significantly reduce IT investment towards this solution through a pay per use model; mobile can improve buyer productivity and workflow can establish rapid collaboration. Therefore, what the retailer gains is increased productivity and collaboration at the lowest cost and in the shortest time.
Buyers are creative people. A lot of the activities performed by the buyer during the buying trip are non-technical in nature and based on market experience, intuition and cordial supplier relationships. Therefore, the usability and design aspect of the application is paramount. The look and feel and interactivity of the application should be made based on a buyer’s persona and liberating the buyer from the technical nitty-gritties of traditional IT solutions.
One thing everybody understands is that buying trips are expensive and critical. Therefore, it is highly imperative that these trips have to be made highly productive and effective than ever before. Improving the effectiveness, productivity and connectivity of a buyer during a buying trip can make the difference between goods on the shelf versus goods in the shopping bag.