Retail is undergoing a radical revolution for how it meets consumers’ needs—and merchandising is at the center of it all. Merchandising has evolved over the past 25 years, but antiquated processes continue to hinder innovation that will drive growth. Merchandising today requires a complete rethink. Human creativity and inspiration can be top differentiators that distinguish marketplace relevancy, leading to increased revenue and profitable growth for retailers and dominant brands.
So where do merchants start, and what do they do next? We see three primary areas of opportunity that can help retailers shape merchandising of the future.
In an era where consumer expectations, technology capacity and data availability multiply at exponential rates, it is time to adopt a model in which merchants can minimize the number of activities on their plates and push as much as possible down to an execution layer where specialized teams and/or machines alleviate the burden. This frees up time for merchants to focus on being creative strategists, thus giving consumers the exact products and services they want.
In this new model, we can imagine new ways of working – how work gets done, by whom and for what. Work will occur in three layers:
Retailers will apply automation to highly predictable occurrences (e.g. item setup, order management and vendor inquiries) and/or repeatable processes that require minimal human judgment, thereby reducing errors, saving costs and freeing up time.
When computers are colleagues that oversee those left-brain executions and analytic decision-making tasks, the business fundamentals are self-driving. When the business fundamentals are self-driving, merchants can get back to their creative roots and dream big.
Retailers will use advanced analytics to enable precision at scale. Actionable data insights will direct merchants’ curation and segmentation of merchandise selections to be hyper-localized and hyper-personalized automatically.
Cognitive, self-learning machines will not only help with segmentation, they also will ensure that product offerings are tailored to individual consumers and suited for local needs, regardless of the shopping channel.
With execution and intelligence capabilities in place, merchants can invest brainpower in inspiring actions that deliver differentiated value propositions.
Merchants will be equipped to readily sense the needs of consumers and respond in meaningful and innovative ways—giving people what they want, when they want it, from someone they trust.
Merchandising is going to be more critical and creative than ever, focused on activities that make the role more engaging, energizing and fulfilling—and less administratively grueling. The merchant’s time could be spent on bringing creative ideas and intelligent experiences to consumers.
A merchant transcends what we think of today as a buyer or category manager. He or she has become the curator of experiences and the inventor of offerings for consumers. As artificial intelligence (AI) changes how work gets done, the job description of the merchant changes too. Merchants are the customer experience designers, the trendsetters and the most important advocate for the consumer. They serve as the innovation engine for the consumer, offering experience and engagement. And most importantly, the merchant will be empowered with the right tools and organizational support to achieve these important outcomes.
Merchants need to embrace their colleagues – whether they are internal, external or robotic. AI and other emerging technologies can reduce the burden when it comes to transactional, predictable, and repetitive tasks—and they have already created new opportunities for humans to work more strategically and purposefully. According to Accenture research, 84% of workers surveyed are excited about the impact of digital on their job and 80% believe digital will provide more opportunities in their work experience.*
What is your winning team going to look like and how are you going to embrace AI and emerging technologies to drive growth through merchandising? It’s time to step into this new era in merchandising before your competitors do. What are you waiting for?
*Accenture; “Harnessing Revolution – Creating the Future Workforce”