Have retailers forgotten the value of a great buyer?
If the volume of articles published recently are a reliable indicator, one might soon conclude that "retail success" today is based strictly on Big Data-based, omnichannel shopping experiences.
Those experiences are supported by tech-toting associates aiding those lucky shoppers who, while connected to in-store wireless networks, are reviewing product information and personalized (CRM-based, of course) offers with mobile apps, all the while sharing images of products they might want to purchase via social media and gathering opinions from friends as they move along the path to purchase. Heady days indeed!
Noticeably absent in these discussions is mention of the role of that committee chairperson, formerly known as a buyer — the lucky individual who sits in the middle of the worlds of planners, assorters, sourcers, product developers, financiers, supplier relationship managers, visual presenters, pricers, replenishers and pundits, and who on occasion actually makes a product decision and writes an order to procure something for the organization to sell. Was the "merchant prince" figuratively beheaded by the "tech revolution"?
But seriously (well maybe all of the above was serious), in retail the statement, "If you don’t put the right product in front of the customer, nothing else matters," does come to mind. The futility of getting everything else right and the product wrong is a reminder that the selection or creation of a great collection is a fundamental that seems to be overlooked these days.
So how do retailers prioritize and recognize the contribution of a great buyer? How about comparing the cost of, say, one data scientist — including all the computer gear, data and support systems necessary — versus, say, one fashion buyer? Check it out, but the probability is that the loaded cost of the data guru is between two to three times that of a fashion buyer. Prioritization indeed.
Despite (or some might say in spite of) all of the tech above, retail success still has some simple concepts that ring true. Sell products at better margins (aka buy better), then sell additional products to each customer by creating a compelling (localized) collection, one that intrinsically lends itself to increasing market baskets and share of wallet.
Are retailers placing enough investment into the development and retention of great buyers, as well as the technology that directly supports their efforts? How big a challenge is balancing tech and trend smarts on merchandising teams?