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.
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.
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.
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.
The Web of Rich-Product Stories
Individual products have a variety of stories to tell. Their potential is to be as inclusive as possible in as many customer journeys as possible.
For the sake of traditional buying and merchandising processes and physical displays in shops products will have an initial story priority. They will be conceived as part of a visual story.
However, that story should not even be a priority concept. It should just be an initial concept – where the story begins. The buying and merchandising process should consider products as part of several different stories, even several different physically grouped stories. In this way it can be flexible and relevant in many ways, not just one.
When we consider the dynamic and simultaneous possibilities of the virtual world, then products can come to life in many individual ways for so many different customers.
Expanding the strategies behind buying product
Innovative strategic decisions regarding the structure of assortments, the product processes and the relationships with suppliers are required more than ever. The disruptive market, and innovation of competitors, requires the input of the whole retail business from the boardroom down, to plan and execute the future direction of assortments.
Amongst the strategic opportunities is the radical changing of the buying & selling calendar, the number and size of collections, and the lifecycle of collections.
eds 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 buying trend from two assortments a year has accelerated to an incessant turnover of new designs. However, this momentum is now being questioned and re-appraised as customers and society recoil against the increased and over-whelming implications of waste and pollution from an endless stream of buying variations.
Buying & merchandising decisions are ultimately becoming the remit of strategic and ethical decision makers at the highest level of retail businesses.
Strategies focused on new collaborations with designers, celebrities, influencers and other competitor brands need to be put in place to evolve the assortment and align it with the wider brand positioning and values.
Your ‘product assortment’ 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.
Please get in touch to discuss further your particular needs.