Wrestling With Markdowns?
This Webinar Can Help

FOR SOFTLINES MERCHANTS, end-of-season markdowns are a necessary evil that clears the racks and frees cash, but too often margins are sacrificed in the process. A markdown analytics solution can bring vast improvements to these activities, resulting in markdowns that are fewer, better timed, and less deep.

Our friends at IBM DemandTec have teamed with Deloitte to offer a webinar geared especially for softlines retailers, which explores how integrating in-season (promotions) and end-of season (clearance) pricing decisions can reduce the amount of excess inventory that has to be heavily marked down at the end of each season.

Learn how these decisions can be optimized and implemented at the store and item level, ensuring greater shopper success and business performance. To register and attend this free webinar, click the banner below.

Markdowns in Softlines: Are you cutting your cloth too late?

Webinar Date: Nov. 7, 2012
Time: 8 am Pacific/11 am Eastern
Featured speaker: Chris Goodin, Principal Deloitte Consulting

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser
(This article was commissioned by IBM, which is granted the right of republication. All other rights reserved.)

Why In-Store Implementation Is the Next Frontier

I CALL IT the Paradox of Scale: Grocery chains keep getting bigger, but industry profit performance remains stagnant.

It’s been a doggedly persistent trend. Between 1992 and 2009, the top 20 U.S. grocery retailers increased their cumulative market share from 39% to 64%, according to the U.S. Economic Research Service. Meanwhile from 1996 to 2010, industry net profits have hovered consistently around 1% of sales, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

These facts seem to run counter to intuition. After all, bigger chains are supposed to have top-of-the-line executive talent, fine-tuned supply chains, advanced IT systems, greater buying clout and economies of scale. A deeper look reveals the paradox: Bigger chains also suffer from intensified store operational complexity, larger assortments and poorer visibility from the home office.

Bottom line – as chains expand, store performance management gets much, much harder. This begins to explain why out-of-stocks continue to run at 8.2%, unchanged in 15 years, yet 78% of items sell fewer than 3 units per week. It begins to explain why as many as half of all authorized in-store display promotions are never erected or erected late. It begins to explain why most retailers have no effective process in place to ensure or even monitor everyday planogram compliance.

A Rich Prize

Where some may find darkness and frustration in these statistics, others identify a golden opportunity. The In-Store Implementation Sharegroup identified tens of billions of dollars at stake – a rich prize indeed. Bold retailers and marketers who commit to improve retail compliance practices in the next few years should gain a distinct performance advantage over their less nimble competitors.

In-Store Implementation is not an isolated solution; it’s a multi-threaded initiative that incorporates improved in-store sensing and measurement; better inputs into planning processes; a performance-oriented culture; and alignment of trading partner resources. Many of the enabling practices and tools already exist, ad hoc. Still needed is an organizing principle that can tie them together into an effective set of best practices for the industry.

Workshop at LEAD

In just two weeks, a select group of industry thought leaders will come together to explore how to make this ambitious agenda a beneficial reality. They will be participating in a pre-conference workshop at the LEAD Marketing Conference in Rosemont, IL, on Sept. 19.

The workshop is presented by the In-Store Implementation Network, a membership organization with an educational mission centered on advancing awareness and knowledge of ISI practices. The group boasts more than 1,400 practitioner members in 28 countries who share a common goal – the establishment of a culture of performance at retail that makes stores work better, shoppers more successful and businesses more profitable.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship support of our friends at Gladson, ISI Network has assembled an all-star faculty to address key facets of the opportunity. The workshop format is intended to ensure that participants will leave the half-day event with a fresh perspective and practical ideas that may be applied immediately to their own ISI business challenges. As Executive Director of the ISI Network, I will be the lead facilitator of this workshop.

A few seats remain available; admission is complimentary to retail and CPG practitioners. I look forward to greeting many of you in Rosemont!

To register for the LEAD Marketing Conference, click here.

For a detailed agenda about the ISI Pre-Conference Workshop, click here.

© Copyright 2011 James Tenser

What Constitutes Compliance?

Is this shelf set correct?

IN MY ROLE as Director of the In-Store Implementation Network, the challenge of merchandising compliance is frequently addressed, from a variety of perspectives – both theoretical and solution-oriented.

Several recent conversations have centered on the question of measuring the accuracy of a shelf set; that is, its degree of compliance with the schematic or planogram. This is actually a non-trivial matter when seeking a practical solution. Since a planogram is a complex tool covering many details (items, facings, positioning, quantities, etc.) determining what data to measure, how often and to what end(s) requires a thoughtful process.

Our valued colleague Mike Spindler, CEO of ShelfSnap has championed this discussion in several items posted on the ISI Network LinkedIn Group page. He is one of the better thinkers we have on this topic, and his company offers a promising tool for digitally comparing an image of an actual shelf set with its associated planogram.

How Close is Close Enough?
If the comparison is “perfect” – that is, all item are present in their proper locations and quantities – we can safely declare that a shelf set is compliant with the plan. This is, however, a rare occurrence which probably exists only for a few minutes after the re-set work is correctly completed. The moment shoppers get to removing items into their baskets, perfect compliance begins to deteriorate. Darn those pesky shoppers!

As I like to say, the “half-life” of a typical shelf set is less time than it takes the re-set crew to leave the building. A slight exaggeration, maybe, but you get the point.

So when do retailers declare a merchandise set to be “out of compliance”? When 9% of items are out of stock (the industry average in grocery)? When 15% of items are present but mis-located? When the number of facings is off on more than 25% of items? Alternatively, what criteria define “in compliance”? All items present and accounted for? 90% of items in the correct place? 99% in-stock? How close is close enough?

Evidently, the ways a planogram can go wrong are numerous but not always numerical. More significantly, they are not easily recognized by human inspection. That is, compliance issues can be hard to spot without a scorecard in hand – and even then it takes concentration and focus and time. 

Compliance Shorthand

What if we could define a short-hand method instead – perhaps three to six yes/no metrics that could be taken as a proxy for overall compliance? ISI Network member Larry Dorr, a respected expert on retail merchandising and founder of Jaguar Retail Consulting, described an approach that is worthy of discussion.

He proposes measuring the condition of approximately five or six “destination” items for each category or major subcategory. These are often the highest-velocity items in their respective sections. “Measure the items adjacent to those items,” he says. “If those five and their adjacencies are in correct shape, then the set is probably in good shape overall. If two of the five items are off, you may assume a compliance problem.”

This approach offers economy, speed and ease of implementation. A limitation, he concedes, it that this doesn’t provide a measure of item distribution. While the five-item rule may deliver a directionally correct conclusion about planogram compliance, it may not help very much with gauging the performance of non-destination items.

Also worth noting is how the criteria for compliance may vary across different product categories and classes of trade. Our example above is drawn from a grocery/mass perspective. In specialty apparel and department stores, where color, size and style factor in, the definition and metrics for compliance will differ. Consumer electronics retailers will face their own compliance issues. 

Storecard Metrics Needed

So let’s grant that merchandising compliance is a slippery quantity using presently available methods. That doesn’t absolve practitioners from the requirement that they track and measure merchandising performance. In fact innovation in Shopper Marketing, segmentation and automated planograms only intensify the need.

We need creative thinking and some consensus on what constitutes compliance success; on what to measure, how and how often. The goal is to define some compliance best practices and incorporate the metrics into in-store scorecards – what I like to call storecards – that support and enable those practices.

Which leads me to offer this challenge: Use the comment form on this post or on the ISI LinkedIn Group to help us define: What constitutes merchandising compliance? How do you/should we measure it? What are the thresholds? How good is good? What’s the cost of good?

This could be the first step along the road to In-Store Implementation Best Practices. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

© Copyright 2010 James Tenser

“Plan Through Impact”: Dialog with Dawson

Tenser’s Tirades recently sat down with Warren Dawson, President of consultancy Dawson Thoughtware, for a conversation about his vision for a comprehensive framework for what he calls Merchandising Resource Management, designed to support superior store-level compliance and effective measurement methods, from initial plans to their ultimate impact on business. The MRM process allows retailers and suppliers to set objectives, measure performance at each process stage, and gauge the impact these have on the overall business.

Dawson was instrumental in organizing the In-Store Implementation Sharegroup and a contributor to its 2008 working paper. He is preparing a new paper, “Plan Through Impact,” that outlines his point of view regarding the next wave of innovation in supermarket store operations, one he believes opens up great opportunities to improve both shopper experience and financial performance.

TT: Warren, you’ve earned a long-standing reputation as one of the visionaries in supermarket merchandising, especially space and assortment management. What’s driving you to speak out again about merchandising compliance?

WD: It’s no secret that I’ve been an advocate along these lines for many years. I started working on the core issues of store-level item distribution in the 1980s. I’ve had the opportunity to help many supermarket and CPG companies tackle space and assortment issues since then. The idea behind the ISI group was to bring together a credible group of companies and industry people to debunk the myth that all is well with In-Store Implementation.

While we’ve seen improvement in supply chain methods, category planning and demand-based insights, the in-store opportunity remains vast – tens of billions of dollars in missed sales, billions in profits. As the ISI Sharegroup working paper showed in 2008, we have barely budged in 20 years on core issues like item availability, promotion compliance, speed to shelf and planogram integrity. I think we have the means to fix those things today.

TT: What do you mean by “Plan Through Impact”?

WD: Well, besides persistent irritants like out-of-stocks and poor promotion compliance, two areas of change in merchandising planning in the grocery industry have brought this need to a higher urgency: The first is Shopper Marketing, which has led to a much greater degree of segmentation and targeting around in-store merchandising and messaging. The second is the adoption of planogram automation tools, which permit retailers to vary merchandising plans down to the store level, if justified by shopper insights.

TT: Those sound like positive developments. Are you skeptical about their value?

WD: Not at all. It’s great, must-do stuff. The challenge is that they introduce an enormous amount of additional intricacy that the industry is not well-prepared to manage. Retailers and CPGs are getting a lot better at formulating subtle and insightful plans, but they lack the know-how and every-day practices to carry those plans out effectively in the stores. There’s a huge risk of wasted spending.

TT: Isn’t that what Workforce Management and Store Execution Management software is supposed to address?

WD: Yes in theory. And these types of tools are likely to be parts of the Merchandising Resource Management solution I envision. They let us formulate a compliance plan and push it out to people in the field. But organizing and communicating tasks is just the first step in the process. There has to be a process for confirming that the tasks get done, measuring them and comparing them to expectation. And you have to be able to share the results to all participants in the process, so they can manage their own performance.

TT: Sounds a lot like the “Plan-Do-Measure” concept advanced by the ISI Network.

WD: Exactly right, although MRM goes further. You need an embedded feedback loop to monitor compliance. Regularity in the information will ultimately help trading partners make better, more realistic merchandising and promotion plans. It’s foolish and costly to plan work that doesn’t get done, and yet that’s what we do every day, because without measurement tools we can’t visualize how our unrealistic plans damage our business outcomes.

TT: So how does “Plan Through Impact” extend this thought process?

WD: By adding three more levels of measurement. Its core is what I call a Compliance Index that synthesizes several store-level metrics into a score that can be rolled up from the item level all the way to the category, cluster or account level. Then compliance must be linked to what we all care about – sales performance results. Finally, we need to connect the dots to measures of business impact – customer experience and loyalty, competitive position, and shareholder value. I sometimes like to call this “Plan-Do-Measure-Measure-Measure-Measure.”

TT: Are you suggesting that we establish a chain of causality connecting a company’s shareholder value all the way back to its merchandising competency?

WD: I believe it’s an achievable goal. Merely tracking merchandising outcomes doesn’t provide a reliable proxy for business performance. We feel intuitively that compliance must have an impact, but we can’t use it to support strategic decisions unless we establish a Plan Through Impact framework.

TT: Sounds challenging. Aren’t you asking for too much?

WD: At one time this might have seemed beyond us, or at least prohibitively costly, but today we have all the elements within our grasp. There’s no shortage of tools to support store level measurement and communications. In fact, many merchandising field organizations are already heavily invested in portable technology with verifiable self-reporting that would support a viable compliance index. Then there are the point solutions for digital image analysis, out-of-stock detection, spot audits, and demand signal analysis to name a few.

TT: If those software and hardware tools are already available, why isn’t the industry already enjoying greater success?

WD: Because they are being put into use ad hoc, and in the absence of a crucial thoughtware layer. Merchandising Resource Management is a business process, not a technology. It requires some changes in business practices at the store level, as well as for decision-makers and administrators. Also, because it creates greater transparency of compliance performance, it has potential to change the way trading partners collaborate for success. Most companies are going to need a little help putting this into practice.

TT: How can companies educate themselves further about this?

WD: Interested parties are welcome to email me at WarrenDawson@gmail.com for a copy of the paper or to discuss a consultation. A good place to begin reading is the In-Store Implementation Network site. Many downloads are available with free registration.

© Copyright 2009 James Tenser
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