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If you have managed digital and ecommerce to a senior level or worked with buying and merchandising (demand planning, inventory or similar) in a growing, sizable multi-channel business, you may well have been sat in a meeting and heard any or all of the following:

”How can we forecast stock if you can’t give us an exact forecast?”
‘What do you want us to buy?”
”How many do you want for the web?”

Perhaps you have sat in a two-hour commercial or growth meeting, and then in the last five minutes, someone pipes up with “anything from the web?”  – when it’s the biggest, fastest-growing store in the portfolio by some margin!

There are many more.

My experience

My experience has seen me working directly inside buying and merchandising (B&M), upskilling a large team on digital and e-commerce.

In this article, I’m going to share some of what I learnt along the way about harmonising buying and merchandising with digital and ecommerce.

They are an interesting bunch; very commercial and analytical. Buyers, by their very nature, are single-minded and unashamedly hardwired to want to win. Tiddly Winks, duck racing – you name it – they want to win. Although all admirable qualities this can make upskilling them incredibly difficult because they don’t like to admit they are not an expert in everything!

Merchandisers are analytical and work with a vast array of numbers, forecasts and are born to plan using their crystal balls. Another tricky group as the web can bring such dramatic change compared to a store.

Put these groups together in large numbers, and it can be like climbing Everest every day. Throw in poor leadership, culture and lack of direction, and you can take away the oxygen and a map!!

  • No stock for web
  • Leavers
  • Poor morale
  • Wasted marketing spend
  • Missed opportunities
  • Slow growth
  • Poor customer experience

Fundamentally you should never forget that the customer decides how they want to buy, not the B&M team!

So how do you climb Everest without Oxygen and a Map?!

Well, take one step at a time.

The first fix always is culture and ways of working. Without that, the frustration never goes away.
Teach, coach, and support the B&M team to understand why it matters.

In this case study, we worked entrepreneurially, so if growth was +110%, the next step was to think about getting it to +200%.

  • Did we have seamless stock?
  • Did we max out traffic demand?
  • What was the conversion rate?
  • Is it peaking seasonally?
  • What’s the on-page experience like?
  • How deep is the range?

And so on.

Now, these all sound like basics, but you would be surprised how the basics and the detail are overlooked even on a large scale. Bringing B&M with you on the digital journey is essential.

Breaking down the ecommerce disciplines for B&M is key

An example would be online out of stocks. Speaking to the B&M teams about not having stock online and relating it to a whole shelf of your best seller not being available in 20 stores brings it home.

Having a whole sales area (20 stores) with no stock is like not having stock online for home delivery for a weekend. You can imagine what the calls would be like from the regional manager and sales directors! Monday’s trading meeting would be interesting! Having ‘online availability’ tagged and time-stamped in Google Analytics is vital.

You can see an empty shelf, but you cannot always see the ‘buy’ button disappearing unless you’re measuring it! How many online sales are you losing?

This was just one solution to many problems to bring the team together.

The results are worth the hard work

The results were just amazing and highly pleasurable to watch and be part of. The team understood their part in the process, what was possible and how to feed the web demand.

What they achieved:

  • Stock-outs reduced
  • Developed online ranges
  • SKU count increased, giving the customer extended ranges, colours, and products
  • Organic search results improved by focusing on what customers were searching for
  • Focusing on volume keywords and topics drove even more traffic to heritage products and ranges
  • The customer got a better experience and found what they were looking for
  • Zero searches reduced
  • Optimising dropship with larger vendors reduced reliance on buying in stock
  • Flat growth to triple-digit YOY growth
  • Sales and margin increased whilst stock holding reduced

Key Takeaways

  • Start with the culture
  • Work on behaviours to avoid as well as positive behaviours – face them!
  • Lead the team – don’t expect them to sort it out themselves
  • Follow the data
  • Always remain entrepreneurial
  • Treat the web as a store (it’s usually the largest)
  • Start today!

Good • Unified Culture • Great product
Great • Unified Culture • Great product • Accurate Data
Explosive • Unified Culture • Great product • Accurate Data • Entrepreneurial & Can-Do Attitude

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Andrew Salmon