Assortment planning when your ducks just won’t line up

October 1, 2020By Views

by Megan Moyer, senior marketing communications specialist, for Retail Environments

It’s hard to plan around data points that keep moving. Merchandise space planners are challenged by vagaries of product availability, market demands, staff changes, and more.

This year has certainly posed many challenges in nearly every aspect of life. The retail industry in particular has had to quickly shift and modify to meet rapidly evolving consumer demand. Brands, retailers, and the entire supply chain have had to innovate, create, recreate, deconstruct, or alter ways of doing business to ensure that products are arriving at shelves or doorsteps as desired.

Not only have market demands driven change, so have adjustments in staff resources, brick-and-mortar locations, the number and proximity of fulfillment centers, available distribution channels, partnerships to increase flexibility and reach, and overall product availability.

Continually juggling all these variables is the current norm, as almost nothing is predictable. Product availability in certain subcategories is a moving target as manufacturers strive to boost output and distributors try to fulfill orders so retailers can offer shoppers what is most in demand. The repercussions of this constantly shifting product assortment can pose ongoing difficulties in space-planning departments at the brand and retailer. Especially if there have been staff reductions.

As for many processes that could benefit from a faster turnaround, automation is the answer. Space-management software is a must for efficiencies and accuracy — especially at the hands of seasoned merchandising experts. It facilitates faster planogram creation through a variety of features and offers accuracy when quality information, such as current product dimensions and package images, is used. Managing space in broad-use programs, such as spreadsheet software, can prove painstaking and can result in inaccuracies because the program lacks the inherent logic that can alert the user when the chosen assortment isn’t a fit on the shelf, for example.

In a more typical time, surges in the need for planogram output can occur for a number of reasons, from seasonal product assortment shifts to brands entering a new retail outlet. Managing these increased needs can be problematic, particularly when lead time for the new planograms is compressed.

If automation isn’t already in use or is not realistic because due diligence can’t be completed quickly enough with looming deadlines, finding a partner that already licenses space-management software may be the next best answer. Experienced category and/or merchandising staff at the helm of the software also makes a big difference, particularly when it comes to the interpretation and execution of business rules and retailer category guidelines. Asking potential partners for examples of similar project work and recommendations from their past or current clients should help speed the decision to partner with a reliable and reputable company that can help manage the surge of planogram needs.

While departments in disarray is more tolerable in our current state of constant flux in retail, category and merchandising managers take great pride in the appearance and shoppability of their sections and want to offer a satisfying shopping experience. Additionally, any period when products aren’t on the shelf is a loss of revenue for brands and retailers alike. If a plan for surges in space management projects isn’t already in place, it’s definitely a worthwhile effort.