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Blog / Jul. 15

Are you a Merchandising Maven? Perhaps it’s Time to Find Out!

Dave Bruno

It’s no secret that the role of the retail merchandiser is in the midst of a radical transformation.

For decades, archetypal “mavens” managed merchandising departments with unquestioned – and unrivaled — authority. They relied upon personal savvy, instinct and experience to develop assortments, plan promotions and order markdowns. And for the most part, the industry thrived under their stewardship.

However, as numerous retailers (Amazon, Zara, Forever 21 and Alibaba, to name just a few) have achieved unprecedented success by taking full advantage of improved technology and data – particularly shopper data – many more are reconsidering how to better balance the art and science of merchandising to create a new breed of maven that is more consistently able to drive retail performance by keeping pace with rapidly evolving customer expectations.

At Aptos, we began to address this challenge several years ago. We realized that this next generation of merchandising experts would be born collaborators who recognized the critical importance of establishing deep relationships with marketing, and that they would insist on sharing data, insights and decision-making with marketing on a daily basis.

Further, we saw that the new mavens would require intimate knowledge of shopper behaviors, style preferences and brand affinities in order to develop assortments and allocation strategies that reflect local tastes. We believed that merchandisers would need to become much more agile and responsive and hence better able to turn strategies “on a dime” as shopper preferences shift and evolve.

Finally, we expected that they would literally be obsessed with data, and that they would expect to be armed with sophisticated tools to put all that to work to develop localized, responsive and adaptive assortments. And to realize this vision, we made significant investments, including the 2014 acquisition of leading analytics provider Quantisense, to bring those new tools to market.

While we believe that the industry as a whole has reached consensus that merchandising mavens must evolve, to date we have not witnessed what we consider to be “wholesale changes” occurring within the hundreds of merchandising departments with whom we interact on a daily basis. We have seen small, incremental changes, but not the radical revolution that we expected by now. And we wondered if what we were observing was unique to our experience, or if the entire industry has indeed been slow to evolve.

To satisfy our curiosity, we decided to investigate. We commissioned our partners at Retail TouchPoints to help us undertake a thorough study of merchandising departments across the industry and tell us just how far practices have evolved.

What we found didn’t surprise us:

  • While most merchandisers agreed that vigorous collaboration with marketing is critical to their success, only 26% of our survey respondents actually collaborate with marketing on a daily basis.
  • Only 39% integrate shopper behaviors and brand affinities into their assortment plans, and just 39% said they are capable of quickly adapting merchandising strategies to shifting customer behaviors and sentiments.
  • Far fewer than half of those surveyed take full advantage of the data available to them to inform and refine their decisions, and fewer still employ advance algorithms to drive allocation decisions.

What about your organization? Have new mavens taken charge, or are you still searching for clues as to their whereabouts?

To help you investigate, check out the detailed infographic that reveals all of our findings, and take our quick self-assessment to answer the question: Are you moving forward with modern merchandising mavens – or are you prisoners of the past?