The Product Assortment. ‘The Crowning of the King’

‘The Product is King’ or so the old-adage goes.

It seems strange to doubt this statement. After all, retail is the process of bringing the product and the customer together. Product is still at the heart of retail, of course, but its role as ‘absolute king’ is changing. Whilst in some businesses it is still everything, in others it is just a part of a variety of services, collaborations and subscriptions that make up the commercial proposition. What the product ‘really’ is, now has a wide range of interpretations from the physical, the digital, to the virtual.

It is also worth considering, that there are plenty of physical products out there that are struggling to find any type of kingdom to rule at all. The ‘tarnish on the crown’ of the product is not just a result of lower demand. It also reflects and exposes how lackluster many products have become.

Generic product. More of the same. Enough is enough.

Selling generic products has become a fight to the bottom, where lowest price is often the only differentiator between retailers. In such brutal fights there is generally only one winner. For all other retailers, a range of more sophisticated product weapons needs to be employed to survive and to flourish.

As retail brands we need to build assortments that are distinctive and desirable. The products must reflect our vision and our values, our taste, and our aesthetics. The need to constantly evolve our assortments is a priority. In dynamic, disruptive markets it is essential.

Getting the basics correct is the constant task of the buying teams. Sadly, our shops are full of products that are unbuyable.

We need to enrich our product. We must embellish, enhance, and adorn our products to add value to them. Ultimately, our products must have an emotional connection with the customer, as much as a physical one. The glory must be restored to our product assortments.

Evolving best practice buying & merchandising

Attention needs to be paid across all the features, attributes, and design elements of a product to ensure that it meets the fundamental needs of the customer. A blouse with the wrong length sleeves, a container that is the wrong size for what it is designed to hold, are common examples of a culture of complacency where buyers go through the motions, and suppliers are paid to produce the least acceptable quality and features.

Planning a balanced commercial assortment, means considering different categories, and type of products. Products should play many roles for retailers from basic commodities, collections of essential and desirable products in the style of the season, to eye-catching image makers that set a brand apart from its competitors. For all types of product, basic mistakes and fundamental errors that create a barrier to sales must be eliminated.

The evolution of product stories

From our origins in the physical world of retail, we know that products must be presented as groups, as stories to the customer. A display of oddments, even attractive and potentially bestselling oddments, will not attract the attention of the customer if they are part of a visual chaos. Coordinating products to create coordinated customer stories is an important task in the buying and merchandising processes.

Appreciating the evolution of product storytelling in an omni-channel world is essential for buying teams. The advent of digital retail, particularly on smaller mobile devices, has made the customer focus more on individual items, rather than story groups. It is a challenge to work with every product, to tell individual stories in one medium, whilst celebrating the collection and the coordinated theme in another. But it is a pre-requisite for success for omni-channel retailers.

Product teams

Still at the core of retail commerciality, the proposed assortment must balance its aesthetic logic, for physical and virtual touchpoints, with its sales potential. The buyer and merchandiser relationship is therefore even more essential to define the price points, margins, and commercial quantities, in the new complexities of dynamic timelines, diverse customer preferences and omni-channel allocation and availability.

This relationship will become ever more critical as the safety net of the physical store parameters dissolves into a digital world of unlimited real and virtual products. The buying and merchandising teams still need to define the breadth and depth of physical assortments, but now within the wider context of the potential commerciality of virtual and bespoke ranges.

Enrichment of the product, requires enrichment of the product teams.

The product must be customer orientated. It should reflect the world around them, and the places where they, work & play. Increasingly customers are influenced by a wider variety of things and buyers and designers need to be ahead of, and in tune with, the customer inspirations.

Enriching the product design team, means ensuring that they continually embrace a wider, and newer range of design influences. The internet, and digital channels can bring inspiration from around the world. This new world of stimulation must be balanced with traditional shop visits and competitor benchmarking.

This wider range of influences and design possibilities also brings added responsibility in selecting the correct trends and buying patterns to produce. Translating fifty influences into five collections is much more difficult than selecting from ten ideas. The ever more sophisticated role of retail intelligence, customer research and data analysis has a big part to play in the enrichment and accuracy of the product design process.

The product team, with responsibility for buying as well as creating, also have a more complex role to play in their awareness of changing production processes & technologies, and the options of raw and fabricated materials, and fabrics in the case of fashion and home furnishings.

A growing web of international and local suppliers has widened the possibilities of more efficient processes, and of more complex and diverse product finishes and attributes. Awareness and a discerning eye, coupled with confident decision making are increasingly important attributes for the buying team across any category of products.

Your ‘product assortment strategy’ project…

If you want to start the ‘product assortment strategy’ ball rolling, please get in touch. I would be happy to share with you some typical project templates, schedules, costs, and case studies.

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‘6 Astute Strategies for 2022′ is an extract from the book ‘Meaning in the Retail Madness: How to be an Essential Retailer.’ by Tim Radley.If you would like to read more about the new ways that retailers are re-organising their structures, re-aligning their processes and empowering their workforces, then you can find all of this and more in ‘Meaning in the Retail Madness.’

Available worldwide across all amazon platforms and popular online booksellers from Waterstones, Blackwell’s & Foyles to Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository.

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'Meaning in the Retail Madness: How to be an Essential Retailer' Out now. Available worldwide across amazon and popular online booksellers