Curing Performance Anxiety

Click to Learn MoreSure, you can plan alright, but how well can you implement?

I imagine this question keeps truly conscious merchants and consumer product marketers awake nights with what amounts to performance anxiety.

Those of you who follow the work of the In-Store Implementation Network may be well aware that members regard the pursuit of retail compliance as nothing less than an industry imperative. Our latest work on Merchandising Performance Management drives the point further. Our not-so-hidden agenda: Shift the dialog from hand-wringing about our challenges to identifying and implementing practical solutions.

You see, we are standing at the threshold of the next (maybe the last) great opportunity for retail financial performance gains – the stores themselves.

The past two decades of industry consolidation, supply chain advances and category management have failed to move the needle on basic merchandising performance indicators such as out-of-stock rates, promotion compliance and planogram compliance and decay. The numbers remain so disheartening that we routinely plan not to measure them. This despite their obvious causal link to GMROII and profits.
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Here is evidence of what I call “dis-economies of scale.” It should be a source of more than a little vexation across the retail consumer products industry. Top executives know with certainty that buying clout and elimination of redundant processes are competitive necessities, but they prefer not to call attention to the fact that larger strings of larger stores are also much harder to steer.

Today’s fast-moving consumer goods chains teeter along the precipice of the “big middle” – the cold, dark place of persistent merchandising mediocrity ruled by a mythical, but non-existent, average shopper. Never fear – we’ve got Shopper Marketing to keep us from the abyss. We segment and target our customer base, and we study our targets, so we derive insights about our shoppers and make plans to reach them on their terms.

Those shopper insights let us design offers tailored to specific shopper groups. They are also inputs for automated planogram tools that let us design tailored merchandising plans for each category in each store. We can layer on store-specific pricing, using the latest optimization technologies, and before long we’ve defined thousands of store-specific matrices of space, mix, price points and deals.

Yes we have some impressively intricate plans, but can we implement them? Well, there’s a dizzying amount of detail to cover, but realistic solutions may finally be at hand.

Retailers, manufacturers, brokers and merchandising services organizations have recognized for some time that they need a systematic way to parcel out the tasks to their minions in the field. That has led to a proliferation of home-grown and commercial Work Force Management (WFM) software solutions that permit headquarters to push instructions out to the individuals tasked with performing them.

WFM solutions are generally one-way (HQ to the field) and intra-organizational with an emphasis on employee management. That is, they permit managers to send instructions to their own people in the field without provision for feedback. Often those instructions arrive in the form of an email or memo.

Expanding the WFM principles more specifically to the retail environment has led to shift in focus from managing people to managing activities. Solutions of this type are called Store Execution Management (SEM), and they are oriented toward field force automation and task or process efficiency. A number of third-party MSOs and direct store delivery organizations deploy SEM solutions today. As a rule these too are intra-organizational, with limited feedback possible for the host retailer.

Now we are seeing a new class of solutions reach the market, of a type I like to call Merchandising Performance Management (MPM). They are distinct from legacy WFM and SEM solutions in several important ways. First, they are engineered to manage outcomes, not just tasks or people. Because they incorporate a two-way platform for feedback and reporting, they support capture of performance metrics in real time.

Second, they are inter-organizational by design. That is, they support interaction from all the parties who plan merchandising and who touch the merchandise in stores – retailers, manufacturers, MSOs, brokers. This is most commonly accomplished through establishment of a secure, Web-based portal that is accessible as an online service. As a result, all parties in the merchandising ecosystem view relevant performance data and contribute required feedback to the greater information flow.

Presently there are at least eight solution providers who offer MPM software and services to the retail market. Several are early-stage companies and relatively untested. None are perfect. All hold out the promise of a practical, every-day, plan-do-measure store compliance discipline that can find hidden profit in the stores – where it all started.

Intricacy is the enemy. Most of what we try to do is not that hard. But there is so much detail to cover and those details are so … relentless. Performance anxiety must inevitably follow.

Unless… We adopt sound Merchandising Performance Management practices. ISI Network has assembled a report that outlines some tools and options for senior executives. I encourage you to take a look. It’s good for what ails us.

© Copyright 2009 James Tenser

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RFID’s Widening Gyre

Two recent news items about retail giants, radio-frequency ID tags and promotional displays have pundits punning and some market vultures vultching:

When Procter & Gamble declared it would no longer apply EPC/RFID tags to promotional displays built for Walmart stores, it triggered critiques of the technology and its underlying economics. Observers circling above the decaying carcass of the program sniffed that just maybe, Walmart wasn’t delivering a measurable benefit from the solution.

Within days Walgreen Drug Stores delivered a more positive spin, stating that the very same sort of radio-frequency tags had helped it improve its in‐store execution in the past year “to nearly double the industry average.”

Never mind that the industry average stinks like carrion.

David Van Howe, vice president of purchasing for Walgreens, called the information captured from the tagged displays a “game changer” for the chain, and at least one partner, Revlon, said the program delivered “unprecedented insight into what works and what doesn’t with consumers.”

So what are we to take away from all this? The vultures in our midst keep trying to declare retail RFID dead on arrival. The tech pundits claim they have seen a glorious future in those tiny transponders. I say the misdirected focus on RFID technology threatens to derail an important initiative.

It’s not the tech, it’s the practice! RFID has been ascribed with magical status by some, but I’m here to tell you – it’s no tri-corder, not even a silver bullet.

When it comes to at-retail compliance – potentially the largest business improvement opportunity presently facing the retail consumer products industry – point solutions are pointless. The system of practices is everything.

P&G’s decision exemplifies the frustration held by many manufacturers with In-Store Implementation of promotions. There is no routine, repeatable, measured and collaborative practice to execute planned promotions in stores. Data on compliance, if available at all, arrives weeks or months after the fact and it reveals that roughly half the spending is ineffective.

Even the mighty Walmart, it seems, has so far been unable to master this challenge on behalf of its trading partners. It means that billions of dollars in trade and promotional funds are badly spent while we debate which brand of ID code to attach to the display headers.

When it comes to optimizing In-Store Implementation, grease pencils and clipboards may be plenty of tech if the process is right. The retailer that formulates a compliance plan, enables it with appropriate solutions, and measures its outcome relentlessly will always achieve better performance on in-store programs. This is equally true for off-shelf display compliance, resets, planogram maintenance, new-product cut-ins, sampling programs, or floor polishing.

Of course large chains like the two Wals require some tools to help manage scale and stabilize best practices. For fixtures and displays, RFID may in fact be a useful input to the process. But it works at Walgreens because it has also instituted the in-store practices to make it work.

For the past two years, the In-Store Implementation Network has advocated establishment of a fully collaborative “plan-do-measure” retail compliance discipline that would ensure real-time visibility and accountability. We cannot improve what we do not measure. Retailers – and that includes even the likes of Walmart and Walgreens – must step forward on this issue if we are to see real progress on retail effectiveness and shopper experience.

© Copyright 2009 James Tenser

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Next Era for In-Store Implementation

Expanded Educational Role, Case Study Effort
The In-Store Implementation Sharegroup is expanding membership and redefining its mission. The decision follows the overwhelming response to the April 2008 release of the Working Paper, In-Store Implementation: Current Status and Future Solutions. To date, the group has received more than 600 inquiries and dozens of membership requests.

To harness all of this positive energy, it is creating a new, more inclusive vehicle for the group, the In-Store Implementation Network. The ISI Network will continue and expand upon the work of the ISI Sharegroup. An e-letter last week outlined the following mission:

  • Continue to research and publicize ISI issues
  • Develop and share ISI case studies and superior practices
  • Research effective and practical ISI tools
  • Promote education on Implementation and at-retail compliance
  • Share learnings through industry conference presentations 
  • Maintain an ISI knowledge resource for members 
ISI Network membership opportunities will be communicated shortly. If you haven’t yet joined the free ISI email list, you are invited to do so now at, where you may access more detailed information and many document downloads.

Coordinating the ISI Network and expanding its base is a major focus for my firm, VSN Strategies, and I consider it a privilege to be associated with the founding member companies. In coming months I anticipate playing a key role in advancing the group’s educational and communications missions.

The In-Store Implementation initiative will assume a high profile in 2009. It is a multi-billion dollar industry opportunity that may be realized only through concerted efforts of many in the retail and consumer products industry. The ISI Network will be a channel for that energy.

© Copyright 2009 James Tenser
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