In this final blog post highlighting findings from the EKN 2016 Assortment Management and Optimization report, I’ll shed light on the recommendations it offers to help retailers create balanced assortments that drive sales while aligning with financial and merchandising goals.
Sponsored by JustEnough Software and based on survey responses from about 50 North American retailers, the report concludes that for more than one-third of retailers, assortment management is yet to be connected to allocation in a real-time process or at a user level. Roughly the same percentage of retailers cite that their assortment planning process is not integrated with financial and merchandising plans. Additionally, shortcomings related to a lack of accurate demand forecasts, consumer insights and a multi-attribute based planning process hinders the development of precise assortments that boost both traffic and margins.
Retailers can circumvent these challenges by transitioning out of legacy systems, opting instead for a single, unified and integrated merchandising process-based platform guided by four strategic pillars: customer science, digital user interface and experience, integrated workflow and functional collaboration. They can further reduce the silo effect by adopting a series of user-level integrated workflows supported by best-in-class solutions that generate targeted and balanced assortments.
The EKN 2016 Assortment Management and Optimization report offers specific recommendations to help retailers improve their assortment planning and execution process over a short-, medium- and long-term period of time. A few examples include:
- Over the course of the first six months, retailers should set benchmarks and KPIs to measure targeted pre-season and in-season assortment progress – i.e., shorter lead times, on-time orders, inventory accuracy, lower lost sales, higher full-price sell through and reduced markdowns, for example.
- Within the first 12 months, retailers should migrate to a multi-attribute based assortment planning system, enabling them to create attribute-based assortments based on common product specifications (i.e., size, color, styles, etc.) and customer segmentation attributes (i.e., preferences and affinity).
- At the six-month mark, retailers should ensure full functional and organizational integration between merchandise planning, assortment management and allocation for strategic planning. At this time, they should also add a consumer insights module within the merchandise and assortment management system for seamless access to customer behavior data at the end-user level.
- At the halfway point of the transition and through to the end, retailers should use investigative and predictive data insights to identify and resolve gaps in assortments through a phased evaluation of pre-season, in-season and end-of-season assortment plans.
To read the full list of recommendations or to download the EKN Assortment Management and Optimization report, click here. Be sure to check out how JustEnough Assortment Planning fully integrates with an innovative suite of retail planning solutions to help organizations create differentiated, customer-centric assortments that drive sales, reduce markdowns and increase margins.
The new EKN 2016 Assortment Management and Optimization report offers valuable insights about the state of assortment planning. Sponsored by JustEnough Software, the report is based on findings from a survey of about 50 North American retailers. In my last few posts, I touched on the most pressing challenges retailers face in optimizing their assortment planning processes, as well as areas they plan to invest in and capabilities they use or plan to use to realize these goals.
Today, I am going to spotlight the merchandise planning solutions retailers have already adopted and those they are currently upgrading, according to the report. Even among large, well-established brands, the use of legacy applications and spreadsheets to manage key merchandising functions is a fairly common practice. Retailers can address many legacy and traditional planning, assortment and allocation-related integration gaps by adopting a unified and integrated workflow-based platform guided by four strategic pillars: customer science, digital user interface and experience, integrated workflow and functional collaboration.
Visual merchandising, category management and space planning top the list for upgrades for nearly half of the retailers surveyed. More than 40% said they are currently making much-needed upgrades to their ERP-based or best-of-breed demand forecasting, distribution center replenishment and assortment optimization systems as a means to align location-specific financial and profitability plans with assortments that catch the eye of discerning shoppers.
While almost half the retailers surveyed indicate they possess updated systems for allocation, store replenishment, item master, analytics and space management, in reality, there are often large integration gaps between planning and execution applications and related workflows. Additionally, retailers are in the process of overhauling their pricing, promotions, markdown and planogram management technologies due to the fact that a large concentration of legacy or homegrown applications are close to or have reached end-of-life.
The EKN 2016 Assortment Management and Optimization report also found that 62% of retailers deployed their merchandising systems using a licensed on-premise model; however, one-third have adopted SaaS applications and managed-services models. SaaS applications have caught on for their flexible pricing terms and ease of scalability and future upgrades, while managed services offer an alternative for organizations with limited IT resources.
Read the full report here, and keep an eye out for next week's blog post highlighting the recommendations it makes to help retailers improve assortment planning and execution.
A couple of posts ago, we unveiled the top areas in which retailers plan to invest to improve overall business efficiency according to the EKN 2016 Assortment Management and Optimization report. The research, sponsored by JustEnough Software, found that nearly half of the 50 North American retailers surveyed intend to invest in assortment plan visualization in 2016. The second-biggest area of investment is in tools that support better integration of merchandise plans with assortment planning.
The report also evaluated which capabilities retailers most need for deeper integration between core merchandising areas. Currently, two-thirds of the organizations surveyed said integrated processes between assortment planning and allocation is the number-one capability needed for the creation and execution of effective assortments. But for many retailers, such processes are executed in silos instead of via a single, integrated process and platform.
To address this issue, allocation and assortment management teams need to share unit-level insights in real time, and allocation managers must have visibility into multiple, attribute-based plans and product images. Investing in a common platform that facilitates visibility and analysis of assortment information and related allocation plans is critical to ensuring that merchandising teams are able to analyze and summarize assortments by location and align them with allocation and financial targets.
The second most-cited capability retailers use is the integration of merchandise financial planning with assortment development. Yet, nearly 40% said they are currently unable to ensure the integration of merchandise financial planning with assortment development. When done correctly and within a single system, the integration of these two important aspects of retail planning gives retailers visibility throughout the planning process and builds a foundation for better, more informed decision-making.
Both of the above-mentioned approaches lead to decreased lead-times, fewer delayed orders, accurate inventories and a reduction in lost sales.
The EKN 2016 Assortment Management and Optimization report also looked at which capabilities retailers planned to use within the next 12 months to optimize their assortments. The two that topped the list are:
- Reduce end-of-season on-hand inventory and related markdowns through optimum order quantities
- Early order commitments, close to, and in-season adjustments
Both capabilities relate to finalizing assortment buys and managing an optimum order management process with suppliers. The retail industry must also accommodate scenarios where early commitments to the orders are made several weeks or months in advance. However, if a trend in demand shifts, retailers should have the ability to adjust orders either close to the trend taking place, or make in-season adjustments to avoid excess inventory and markdowns.
On next week’s blog post, we’ll cover the top merchandise planning technologies and strategies retailers are deploying to increase operational efficiencies, but check out the full EKN 2016 Assortment Management and Optimization report here.
The vast majority of shoppers don’t hesitate to rip the tags off new clothing purchases, according to retail research agency Verdict. Its June 2016 clothing survey found that nearly 86% of consumers say they purchase clothing they can wear right away, and 51.4% prefer not to buy clothing too far in advance of the upcoming season – a tricky proposition considering that most retailers launch their seasonal lines months before the weather turns.
Statistics like these suggest that traditional buying cycles no longer reflect the way that consumers like to shop for clothing. Unpredictable weather patterns certainly don’t help, but the buy-now-wear-now trend is more likely propelled by social media, which has shortened product lifecycles by giving users greater exposure to more styles and feeding a perpetual desire for new products.
However, the research found that slightly more than 75% of consumers believe apparel retailers offer sufficient transeasonal options. As a result, the Verdict article speculates that the culprit for weak sales is actually misguided marketing and merchandising strategies that have traditionally been aligned towards peak seasons, versus product selection. For example, a shopper who is looking for a sundress to wear to a Labor Day picnic in California will likely have to find what she’s looking for on the sale rack despite relatively warm weather.
Some retailers are thriving despite this buy-now-wear-now shift by aligning their product and merchandising strategies with consumer shopping behavior. Two standouts in this space include a contemporary British-style clothing company and an international Spanish clothing and accessories retailer. The former focuses on selling transeasonal ranges, while the latter’s in-store display strategy embraces stylish layering. The Spanish retailer’s vertically integrated supply chain provides the foundation to adapt quickly to weather changes via flexible phasing, reactive product drops and regular visual merchandising updates. A global luxury brand is also taking a forward-thinking approach by making its collections “seasonless” – i.e., available to buy immediately and referring to them as February and September, versus the more traditional Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter labels.
To follow in the footsteps of advanced retailers, the article suggests that organizations should:
- Ensure in-store and online inventory reflects current weather conditions
- Showcase outfits that can be worn immediately in window displays
- Use mannequins, hangers and online and social media channels to show how existing stock can be layered to accommodate changes in weather
- Gear marketing strategies toward current fashion trends, versus upcoming seasons
Modifications to marketing and merchandising practices like those mentioned above will help retailers circumvent declining sales and customer satisfaction; however, the long-term fix requires fundamental changes to current product buying and phasing cycles to become more flexible, frequent and responsive. Such changes require the support of modern IT technologies. JustEnough’s fully integrated, highly scalable and agile suite of solutions support the end-to-end retail planning process, enabling businesses quickly adapt to trends and shifting customer buying behaviors in order to garner greater profits and market share. Contact us today to learn more.
The retail landscape is unquestionably complex: Selling channels are on the rise and customers expect nothing less than to find exactly what they are looking for in the right location and for a price they’re willing to pay. Technology and processes must offer a high degree of flexibility and efficiency for retailers to keep pace in a rapidly evolving industry shaped by shifting customer demand and short-lived trends.
The August issue of Apparel shed light on the urgent need for greater integration between two critical processes that, by and large, are disparately managed: planning and allocation. Advanced retailers are latching onto the concept that planning and execution should no longer be a one-way street; rather, bidirectional processes are critical to facilitate the back-and-forth flow of information.
Despite inherent omni-channel challenges, many retailers have made strides in breaking down planning silos. And it’s common for many organizations to now look at inventory as a single pot for meeting demand across all channels. However, unless further improvements are made to coordinating assortments and allocations, customer and demand trends can be missed, resulting in lost sales and lower customer satisfaction.
For real change to take effect, the Apparel article suggests that retailers must pair new technologies with updated organizational structures. Tearing down divides in merchandising is where it begins.
In a traditional retail organization, planners create assortments and then order inventory. A separate team decides what to do with it when it arrives. Today’s fast-paced omni-channel environment is forcing retailers to rethink this approach. Without clear visibility into both the assortment and allocation processes, retailers risk not being able to cater well to local and cross-channel demand trends. This can be avoided by enabling greater collaboration between planners and allocators, as well as providing a means for both sides of the house to analyze business conditions and revisit their plans based on the latest financial targets, sales activity and forecasts. Deciding how best to implement a checks-and-balances system is critical. Without a cohesive plan, determining how assortments from a shared inventory pot should flow into different channels is difficult, and reacting to sales trends outside the plan can result in brand inconsistencies that wind up confusing potential customers.
The modern merchandising process is seamless and iterative, starting with the financial plan and moving through to assortment planning and finally to allocation. Shared IT solutions enable all members of the retail team to reconcile plans at each step.
The article spotlighted outdoor retailer Kathmandu, which operates about 160 stores across Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. Looking for an integrated solution that would help it better manage its multichannel business, Kathmandu replaced its spreadsheet-based merchandising system with JustEnough Software for assortment planning, demand forecasting, inventory planning and replenishment. The JustEnough solution also fully integrates with its Microsoft Dynamic AX ERP system. In addition, Kathmandu is an early adopter of JustEnough’s pre-season and in-season planning capabilities, which enable its teams to execute to their original assortment plan while remaining flexible about how they replenish the style range once in season.
A new approach to end-to-end planning has resulted in significant gains for the retailer. Kathmandu reports that it has less excess inventory, which it attributes to starting each season with better plans based on more accurate forecasts. In fact, Kathmandu is holding about 10% less stock, and more of the stock it has on hand sells at full-planned margin. The retailer sold 20% less clearance items in the first half of 2016 and had 35% fewer clearance units on hand. Simultaneously, its sales went up just shy of 10% and profits increased 15.8%. Finally, the new system has provided Kathmandu with greater omni-channel customer insights, allowing it to use data from customer orders to stock its shelves appropriately and capitalize on trends it would have otherwise missed.
Success stories like Kathmandu’s underscore how this generation of retail planning systems help businesses embrace customer-centric merchandising, leveraging built-in analytics to tailor assortments to store clusters. As a result, companies can accommodate specific tastes of local markets and online consumers. However, as the article points out, it’s key to have an allocation strategy in place to distribute product based on how that particular item performs in certain locations, whether in-store or online.
Read the full article here, and contact us today to learn how JustEnough can help your organization successfully integrate its assortment planning and allocation processes.
Last week, we highlighted the top three challenges retailers must overcome to optimize their assortments according to the new EKN 2016 Assortment Management & Optimization report, sponsored by JustEnough Software.
To address these obstacles, close to half of the 50 North American retailers surveyed said they are focused on investing in assortment plan visualization technology this year for a couple of reasons: First, they lack adequate visibility into frequently changing multi-attribute assortment plans across various store formats. Second, there is a strong need for more effective retail store execution.
Retailers have typically lagged behind consumer product companies in adopting 3D visualization tools to help them plan better assortments and understand what their products will look like in distinct store settings – i.e., big-box, small-store and express-store formats. In order to adopt 3D visualization tools, retailers must loosen their grip on tedious 2D planogramming, which requires constant updates to the product selection, shelf-level facings and aisle placements.
The next biggest investment retailers plan to make is in solutions to help them better integrate their merchandise and assortment plans. Retailers either develop top-down or bottom-up merchandise plans. Such plans typically reside in separate modules within a software platform – or, they are created using spreadsheets. Either way, they are developed separately from the assortment plan, resulting in a disconnect in terms of overarching strategy, production and even marketing.
There is an immediate need for deeper integration between these two critical merchandising pillars so that a common vision and business objectives are followed by all stakeholders. Assortment plans that are linked more cohesively with targets in the merchandise financial plan will ultimately help the retailer achieve its revenue goals.
Next week on the blog, we’ll spotlight the key capabilities needed for deeper integration between assortments and core merchandising areas. In the meantime, check out the EKN 2016 Assortment Management & Optimization report here.
Last week, we talked about the current state of assortment planning according to the EKN 2016 Assortment Management & Optimization report, which surveyed about 50 North American retailers.
Sponsored by JustEnough Software, the report also shed light on the top business challenges retailers face when it comes to creating the perfect assortment. Below is an overview of three major obstacles:
First, retailers find themselves in a tricky position: They need accurate demand forecasts to plan assortments more effectively for their stores and channels, but prevailing demand forecasts leave much to be desired. The average retail forecast accuracy stands at a mere 60% regardless of the forecast methodology used. In addition, legacy ERP and Excel-based forecasting tools do not possess capabilities that utilize heuristics and algorithms for identifying causal and predictive relationships between demand, assortment buys, price elasticity, sales, allocation and supply planning.
The second most pressing business challenge gets at the heart of the assortment planning process for one-third of the companies surveyed: Over the years, the growing range of complexity within retail categories has led to the adoption of assortment planning based on attributes like size, color and style, to name a few. However, many prominent retailers still do bulk top-down plans and universal year-over-year assortment planning without much emphasis on attribute-based segmentation of buys. While multi-attribute based planning helps address scale and assortment specificity, retailer migration towards attribute-based planning has been tepid at best.
Speed-to-market is the third biggest obstacle getting in the way of optimized assortment planning. To meet shifting consumer demand, many retailers are expanding their current assortments daily to add new products. However, assortment expansion introduces speed-to-market and lead-time risks as new products need to be backed by strong marketing, operational plans and field sales training. The average four-month design-deliver cycle time is far too long for both the retailer and its customers.
In the next blog post, we'll explore the top investment areas and strategic levers retailers can pull to overcome these assortment planning obstacles. Be sure to download the EKN 2016 Assortment Management & Optimization report here.
Getting assortments right is not a new challenge. Retailers have long struggled with the delicate balance between art and science to figure out the right assortment mix that appeals to not only its most loyal customers, but also new customers, resulting in higher sales, lower inventory costs and an improved shopping experience.
However, within the last few months, several new industry-wide obstacles have presented themselves, throwing a wrench in the way retailers approach assortment planning. Customer traffic in stores has waned, top-line revenue has become more unpredictable and the emergence of off-price sales channels in traditionally less price-sensitive segments like specialty, apparel and luxury have muddied the waters.
The new EKN 2016 Assortment Management & Optimization, sponsored by JustEnough Software, surveyed about 50 North American retailers. While the two predominate challenges standing in the way of perfect assortments are the fact that one in three retailers lack predictive tools to forecast demand and roughly the same percentage are unable to plan assortments around multiple product attributes such as size, color and others, the report offers insight into the current state of assortment management. Here is a high-level summary:
Retail executives and customers cite different reasons for why shoppers buy products from the retailer. From the retailer’s perspective, the top five drivers can be summed up in order of importance as: product quality, overall customer experience in store or online, product range, price and, finally, preferences. In contrast, millennials – arguably the most important consumer demographic at 75 million strong – put a premium on price, followed by discounts and promotions, product availability, staff friendliness and ease of navigating the store, according to EKN’s 2014 Millennial Survey. It’s clear young shoppers are focused on price – much more than retailers have estimated. An enhanced assortment can make the shopping experience more enjoyable for consumers, helping them see past the price tag and making them more loyal to the brand – which, in turn, can result in higher full-priced sales and profits.
Retailers are dogged with the decision to deploy a universal versus local assortment strategy. According to the report, 60% of all assortments are universal or applicable to a broad group of consumers. The reason for that is that 70% of retailers, on average, do mere macro-level geographic customer segmentation to plan targeted product lines and product varieties due to a lack of investment in deeper consumer preference and product affinity insights. This leads to generic assortments that don’t meet the needs of specific shopper tastes and lifestyles. However, adequate investments in local customer insights, category and item analysis and store/channel audits can empower retailers to develop more targeted and localized assortments or product lines and varieties.
Disparate and legacy assortment management do not allow for extensive in-process customer insight input. The EKN 2016 Assortment Management & Optimization survey found that 60% of retailers do not process customer-centric, store-level clustering for omni-channel assortments, leading to lower full-priced sales, inventory turns and sell-through of merchandise. Moreover, one-third of retailers do not have formalized processes to integrate assortment management with allocation execution for stores and other channels.
From a planning and execution perspective, these two big merchandise management pillars of are largely handled separately. It’s no wonder the lack of integration between the two sides is harmful to the business. For instance, the coordination between open-to-buy, category and department-level assortment plans and precise allocation of all SKUs for both promoted and non-promoted items is done too late in the in-season planning process, leading to delayed shipments, out-of-stocks and fulfillment delays. The integration of merchandise financial plans and decisions with assortment strategies is critical to ensure that the retailer’s financial goals meet the product and sales goals location by location and channel by channel.
The bullets above describe the state of assortment management today. In the next blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the top business challenges retailers are facing as it relates to creating assortments that truly differentiate them from the competition and drive sales. You can view the full EKN 2016 Assortment Management & Optimization report here.
NRF recently published its Holiday Planning Playbook for 2016 which includes historical sales data, consumer trends and perspectives, and investments retailers plan to make for the 2016 holiday season. Here are a few takeaways from the report.
Online & Mobile Findings
One in three (35%) consumers made more than half of their holiday purchases online this past holiday season. For six days — on weekends and as Christmas drew closer, according to Adobe — traffic from smartphones surpassed that of desktops; however, despite the heightened emphasis on mobile, online shopping via desktop still brought in the highest transaction size during Holiday 2015. Retailers will continue to try harnessing the runaway power of mobile, optimizing the experience and attempting to spread its impact across all channels.
Retailers focusing on one area must be careful to not lose ground in another. Specific to online, 84% of retailers want to see site conversion rates increase, followed by average daily site traffic (71%).
Consumers expect the same level of information to be available online and in-store. That goes beyond being able to find what they want in terms of products; comparisons, ratings and reviews should be available within bricks-and-mortar. Google reports that 42% of in-store shoppers conduct online research while in-store, and 46% are visiting the retailer’s own app or website.
Retailers find that mobile and online are increasingly considered drivers for the in-store experience. Consistent with that, a third of the retailer respondents to the 2015 Holiday version of the Omnichannel Retail Index survey offered free Wi-Fi in-store during the holidays, compared to just 26% in the summer months. Outside the walls of bricks-and-mortar, individual data collected online is helping create more personalized shopping experiences in-store.
Marketing and Promotions Findings
Free shipping was once a differentiated offer. But now, close to 60% of online transactions include it. So what do consumers respond to? Online-only sales (32%), percentage-off coupons (31%), free standard shipping without conditions (28%) and free shipping upgrades (25%) are all drivers.
Consumers know they missed out by foregoing promotions. A third of the respondents said they would have done well to take more advantage. Additionally, almost one in four (24%) visited a website they shopped on last holiday season through an email promotion.
As for retailers’ investment priorities, search engine marketing is at the top of the list for the coming season. Over nine in 10 retailers (97%) plan to use it in 2016, compared to 88% in 2015 and 75% in 2014. Digital is expected to be a large spend overall. On average, 41% of marketing budgets are dedicated to digital. In terms of promotions, the days ahead will be as much about when the offers are made as what they are for; retailers desire more careful attention to timing for greatest impact. They also desire a greater balance between bricks-and-mortar and digital.
Read the complete article here to find more insights into expectations for the 2016 holiday season and other findings from both the consumer and retailer perspectives.
JustEnough’s Nick Bourland and Keith Whaley recently wrote an article about strategies that retailers can employ in order to create the right balance of building an assortment plan that is visually compelling and draws customers in, while not jeopardizing financial success. It outlines how companies can understand key points in the assortment plan process to determine where art or science should take the lead. Below are strategies recommended in order to attain the right balance and truly marry the art and science of assortment planning.
Dive Deeper Into Your Data
Traditionally, retailers have planned their assortments guided by the structure of their product hierarchies. For many, this is due to the fact that their systems aren’t capable of a more flexible approach, or perhaps their available resources simply aren’t able to analyze at more granular levels. By drilling down deeper into the data, merchandising organizations can hone in on areas of opportunity created by local customer affinity that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Reduce the Risk of New Products
Ask a hundred retailers and they’ll all agree – infusing assortments with newness each season is a critical component of their success. The problem is, no matter how great a proposed new product may appear, properly estimating consumer reaction is an ever-moving target. By breaking down financial targets that are typically planned at higher levels of the product hierarchy into more attribute-based or trend-specific categories, retailers can identify areas of focus for core business versus complementary offerings. This helps ensure that precious open-to-buy dollars are allocated to the areas of business in which they will be most impactful and provide the greatest return.
Location, Location, Location
Another key step in finding hidden opportunities is understanding the differences that exist across a business by location. Selling trends can vary widely from one store to the next, even within the same geographical area. Recognizing these differences and then grouping similar stores together allows retailers to localize their assortment offerings without the requirement of planning assortments for every individual store.
Time is of the Essence
The last strategy we offer up for planning with greater insight and precision is understanding the role that time plays in the equation. Being able to grasp historic demand for any timeframe by both product and location enables retailers to see the bigger picture – how assortment breadth and depth should flex across the calendar to closely mirror changes in demand. Christmas and Back to School are no surprise to most retailers, but what about other events that happen at a more local level? The intersection of analytics by product, location and time paints the complete picture of ideal assortment size throughout the year.
Finding the Balance
By digging deeper into customer preferences through historical data analysis, it’s possible to build compelling assortments that achieve financial targets while still allowing merchants and buyers to address emerging trends. Through robust historical data modeling and process flexibility, the JustEnough Assortment Planning solution enables retailers to plan in a manner that feels custom to their specific business needs and yet move forward with confidence, knowing a sound analytical foundation lies beneath every step.
To read the full article, click here.
Find out more about how JustEnough can help you find the perfect balance of art of science in your next assortment. Contact us today.