Ian Jindal considers the complexities of merchandising across the continent
Connecting customers with products is the heart of retail: connecting repeatedly, at profit and at scale is the heart of successful retail. Getting the right product is increasingly a challenge, with ever-more retailers wanting access to these products, and also to premium lines and ranges.
Europe adds new challenges for the cross-border retailer. If you are selling in multiple countries you have the challenge of where to locate your stock: in one location for coherence and management, or close to the customer for speed and flexibility? Sending products is getting cheaper and faster. However, handling the returns – reverse logistics – is a complex challenge, especially as retailers may not have stores to shoulder the burden in a given country.
The role of global brands also takes on a new potency when looking at commerce on a continental scale. That’s because the brand marketing and reach is certainly continental, creating customer demand and expectation ‘above the line’. The customer’s options thereafter are legion: a local specialist store, a local department store, the brand’s own stores online and off, or the pan-continental pureplays.
“The role of global brands takes on a new potency when looking at ecommerce on a continental scale”
The customer-facing complexity is as nothing compared to retailers’ challenges: country-level licensing and franchise agreements, confusion over rights for online, differing presentation of the brand’s voice... All in a day’s work for the hard-pressed merchandiser!
Turning to the customer interface, professional online merchandisers are well versed in complex algorithmic approaches to presentation, prioritisation, promotion and persuasion – but we now have the added complexities of personalisation at a national, legal, local, cultural and linguistic level.
Merchandising and selling mentalities are the foundation of commerce: they turn us from operational wholesalers to customer-centered retailers. This combination of heart, gut, brain and brawn forms the battleground in multichannel retail, and the source of competitive advantage and growth.
In our research, we will see masterful retailers at scale in their own countries and regions, niche players that resonate across borders, and multinational specialists who are able to extend generic patterns with local touches. Balancing these capabilities to determine the best retailcraft is an eye-opening task, but necessary to understand the heart of multichannel, multinational retail.