In the last few years, we have witnessed enough discussions on Omnichannel strategies, digital strategies from a marketing lens, customer loyalty, and shopper experience. Yet, the focus on Buying and Merchandising strategies in the new world has been virtually non-existent.
It is a known fact that without a great product, no amount of marketing, experience building, or visual merchandising will help a retailer grow.
Retailers are under tremendous pressure today. They are constantly plagued with channel proliferation, fickle consumers, increasing price sensitivity and lack of brand loyalty. To attract new customers and ensure that the existing ones keep coming back, retailers must understand their consumers thoroughly. They must keep abreast of what they like or dislike, the trends they follow, their shopping patterns in order to be able to align merchandise accordingly.
We asked some Buying and Merchandising practitioners to talk about the unique B&M strategies they apply to both, delight consumers as well as turn them into brand loyalists by keeping them coming back for more. Here is what they had to share.
Consumers will continue to be the voice that dictates; retailers must be prepared to listen. They must become more attentive, even pre-emptive to consumer needs. The voice of the consumer will be central to all decision making across all functions, especially B&M, if the organization intends to achieve its goal of becoming a customer-centric.
Almost every one of the B&M practitioners believes that success is difficult unless the consumer is at the heart of B&M decision-making. Diff erent retailers use different methods of staying in touch with the consumer but the information they seek is the same:
i. What the consumer wants and desires and marrying the product to those needs
ii. Understanding their buying behaviour
iii. Their purchasing power and choices at a catchment level
The desired objective: to ensure a seamless fit between product, consumer needs and desires, and assortment optimization on the basis of customer buying behaviour.
Head of B&M, Arvind Lifestyle Brands Ltd., Gaurav Jadli believes, “Being close to the retail shop floor is very important to understand the market and the consumer. I have been following this strategy since the early years and it has resulted in getting good consumer insights to take the right decisions.”
Head of Buying and Merchandising, ITC Limited – Lifestyle Retailing, Sudhir Gupta sums it up succinctly. “The B&M strategic focus has shifted from identifying trends to interpreting the same into products which marry consumer needs, deeper data analytics and constantly working on new ideas to create excitement through product differentiation. The result of these gives the consumer a reason to visit again and again.”
2Freshness and Relevance of Merchandise:
No longer does the ‘4 collections in a year’ apply – especially to the fashion category. The consumer is getting more informed and fussier and demanding changes more frequently than brands can cope with. As a result, the brands are offering the same merchandise using various imaginative strategies – from new and innovative fabrics, to new graphics, prints and embellishments. Or, as in the case of Crocs India Pvt. Ltd., by expanding the portfolio from unisex to specifically for him and hers.
3Innovative and Differentiated Product:
There is a definite shift towards investing in differentiated fabrics, as well as adding a newness to the product in each season.
DGM, Buying and Merchandising, Raymond Ltd. Leela Krishna speaks of the rapid changes happening at Raymond, “We are moving towards customer-centricity by focusing on customer needs and innovations resulting in new age fabrics like the techno-series (features UV protection, easy care, moisture management, anti-microbial and stain resistant fabrics). Another example is Imola fabric crafted from super 100’s with richness of design clarity.”
4Inventory Management to Ensure Availability With No Stock Outs:
A great product that is not available does not have any meaning. Each of the retailers works toward ensuring that the right product is available at the right time, in the right size at the right place. To ensure this, a lot of investment and planning at the backend is critical to ensure availability always.
National Retail Manager, Lee Cooper, Vishal Dubey believes that the key differentiator that B&M brings to consumers is the meticulous planning which helps to achieve better sell through. This allows inventory to rotate faster and create freshness in-store.
GM, Quest Retail Pvt. Ltd (The Body Shop), Sanjali Giri reiterates, “The product life cycle management plays a key role in driving customer experience. Ensuring availability of the right product at the right time at a competitive price is key.”
As Business Head, OSL Luxury Collections, Salesh Grover aptly sums it up, “The basic rule that applies to buying strategies is listen to what the consumer wants. If you are meeting their needs and they think that you are listening to their wants, they will keep coming to you.”
5Cross Functional Integration to Create Customer Delight:
B&M alone cannot create magic and build a differential experience for customers. Across board, we hear that while product superiority and uniqueness is the key contributor to a differential experience, there is much more that needs to be done to keep consumers engaged. The in-store experience is a combination of Visual Merchandising, branding and communication, store design and layout, the people on the shop floor, loyalty programs and much more. Each of these elements add significant value to the overall customer experience and delight.
As DGM, Buying and Merchandising, Raymond Ltd, Leela Krishna puts it, “While merchandise is a key differentiator along with service, we believe it is the collective functioning that creates superior experiences and delights the end consumer.”
Head of Merchandising, Crocs India Pvt. Ltd., Surabhi Agrawal adds, “B&M can help with right product planning. Focused storytelling helps convey the brand message and elevates the consumers’ experience.”
Vice President Merchandising, Soch Apparels Pvt. Ltd., Nitin Yagnik adds, “We have a simple mantra towards delighting our customers – amazing product at a great price from a large assortment to choose from and with availability of every style in every size.”