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Range and assortment planning in an omnichannel era IRM51

With so many new styles of shopping and technology to choose from, none of it really matters if you can’t put the right products in front of the customer, says Peter Charness, Chief Marketing Officer, TXT.

In the not too distant past, the management of retail was a fairly straightforward discipline. In short, it required stocking goods and selling them at a profit to customers prepared to travel to stores and buy them. Today, there’s an array of retail channels to choose from, numerous delivery options and lots of technology available to help meet the ever growing expectations for customer service.

Click and collect; same day deliveries; shipping everywhere from anywhere; and constant promotions, whether online or in an overseas store. These all form part of the current retail environment. There’s also intense competition between the various shopping channels, with a constant drive to maximise profit. Every retailer wants a larger slice of profits and most are finding that online, mobile or overseas channels offer the best growth potential these days.

But none of this matters if you don’t put the right products in front of the customer. Traditionally, this was the job of the merchandiser, for most retail operators. Planning what to stock on the shelves, sometimes many months in advance, has blossomed into a multi-disciplined field involving everyone from buyers to top management. And it’s a discipline that’s evolved. Now, technology for range and assortment planning across multiple channels has made a complex art an everyday reality.

Complex Planning Decisions

The internet has caused a fundamental change in shopping behaviour resulting in greater complexity in retail operations. There are new challenges to create targeted price and product promotions where online and stores align. And, with it, new complexities in planning and managing inventory, and creating effective and compelling assortments wherever a customer chooses to research, place orders and shop. For retailers or brands also adding wholesale, franchise and international operations, this complexity escalates even further.

Ecommerce used to be a small team in the marketing or IT department. But now digital thinking, skills, processes and IT systems are required across the entire business including buyers and merchandisers.

Ecommerce directors want to know what’s most likely to sell online, as well as get regular updates on top-sellers or depleting stock. While product designers (and suppliers) also value any added insights into what sales can tell them about future trends.

Multiple Channels

Getting all the requirements, quantities and timings together for every single order often requires collaboration and planning across a variety of players on a worldwide basis. So, simple, easy-to-use tools are essential.

The major goal of assortment planning remains putting the right product in front of the customer. But now there are many types of inventory that need to be planned. These might include stock for sale to customers who only shop in physical stores; or, stock for pick-up in-store based on online orders. Clearly, in this instance, the online customer is not even remotely the same demographic as the in-store customer and so requires a different assortment to the store. Likewise, for direct shipping to customers, it might be more profitable to offer a different assortment again.

The real challenge is: who is the customer, where do they shop, and how do we fulfil that particular customer’s order?

The online shopper, even for a local store, may not be the same as the physical store shopper. Some retailers have found that the online customer is completely different from the physical – for instance, some households might share a credit card, although the children using the same card as their parents have completely different profiles.

Dealing with who plans and manages the inventory in this mixed mode environment can still present a challenge. Many retailers grapple with whether to have a single planner across all channels or a single pool of inventory for all channels. Others prefer using multiple planners; or even one planning tsar. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all for retailers. The solution has to be adapted to the individual needs of the customer.

Nonetheless, the fundamental requirement today remains the same as last century: right stock, right place, right time. But the complexity of having multiple shopping channels means that those retailers most likely to survive the future will be those with the best planning systems.

Additional Information:


PANDORA, one of the world’s largest jewellery brands, is in the process of implementing a global planning platform to improve planning accuracy while integrating the merchandising process from strategy to customer. The global project roll-out spans all markets and channels: the retail, wholesale and online channels, franchisee, distributors and all store types.

A vision to become the world’s most recognised jewellery brand, PANDORA designs, manufactures and markets hand-finished and modern jewellery. In just a few years, the Group has made the exceptional journey from a local Danish jeweller’s shop in 1982 to a world-leading jewellery company, present in more than 80 countries in 6 continents with 10,000 points of sale, including 1,200 concept stores.

“With our multichannel business growing so quickly, ever faster product innovation rates and vast assortment developments, integrated planning was a clear opportunity for us. Retail Planning allows for more accurate planning and end-to-end visibility across the business,” said Jonathan DelFino, Vice President Merchandise Planning at PANDORA.

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Monoprix, the French supermarket chain, part of the Casino Group, has increased merchandise and assortment planning accuracy on an international scale and across channels by implementing a merchandise planning platform.

The €4.3bn retailer serves 800,000 customers, offering a wide range of food, fashion, beauty and leisure products. Its 500 stores in France and 85 outlets abroad include different store formats and brands, ranging from stores located downtown and in train stations, to larger, city centre supermarkets. It also has an online shopping site.

With a growing company, a multichannel approach and thousands of different products to be managed, planning at Monoprix is not an easy task.

“Retailing – and especially so in fashion – requires great agility. It is essential for IT systems and planning tools to support such a dynamic scenario,” explained Guillaume Delestre, Planning and Optimisation Director at Monoprix.

With Monoprix moving towards more multichannel formats – including recently implementing a mobile and online shopping solution – the IT solution is able to show which products are destined for each channel, as well as support simulation and analysis at all levels and dimensions. Before, this would have been done manually, and entered separately.

Other benefits from the project are the rationalisation of processes and harmonisation of planning practices across the business.

“We have recorded benefits in terms of accelerated times in the definition of our collections and greater control of the overall process,” concluded Delestre.

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