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Retailers: Do You Plan Your In-Store Changes?

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There’s a joke in merchandising that is a play on the turn of phrase “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” and it goes, “if you’ve seen one retailer’s store, you’ve seen one retailer’s store.” The joke is meant to be a pejorative; it is a dig at retailers that intend for a homogenous in-store experience and then fail spectacularly in the implementation.

We like to add the word “today” to the punch line because the reality is that stores are changing more often than even the jokers realize, and in many cases, much more often. The reasons underpinning the failure to create a uniform in-store experience are numerous, but the primary culprit is a lack of communication between teams.

Most large retailers structure their merchandising organization into business units around the types of activities that happen in the store, such as “Capital Projects,” “Seasonal,” “Localization,” “Resets and Refreshes,” “Supplier Services,” etc. For better or for worse, each of these business units usually has both the budget and the authority to plan and execute in-store projects, with or without the engagement of their peers. It suffices to say that within most big-box chains, the operational maxim is the former – there is literally zero communication between these teams, and the result is that they step all over each others’ work.

In the extreme case, we have seen a reset completed over-night on Sunday, which is then torn down and re-merchandised as part of a localization project on Wednesday, which was followed by a capital team completely ripping out the entire section on Friday night. The merchants that funded each project didn’t learn about their overlap until months after the fact, and then raced to assign blame for the unrealized reset-lift. The store manager just shook her head in quiet resignation and put all the affected merchandise on clearance.

Because the merchandising organization did not look at its in-store activity holistically, for whatever reason, it completely missed the opportunity to simultaneously save money and improve the in-store experience.

Historically the argument against coordinating all these different teams was that there were too many moving parts, pieces, and people. Today, we take for granted that coordination on this level is simply an expectation of mature software and communication (process) discipline.

The questions then for retailers are: (1) How much waste are you willing to tolerate in duplicated efforts? (2) At what point do you have to admit, you don’t know the state of your store? (3) Can you quantify the lost opportunity cost from those two factors?

Chances are, your store looks differently today than it did yesterday, and there’s a significant chance that it will look different yet again next week. Hopefully, that was your plan.

Written by: Nick Downey