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What is ‘top’? Product and Merchandising

Retailers source, develop and acquire products and services with the purpose of selling. This is the heart of retail, and ‘retailcraft’ (to use our Researcher, Martin’s phrase). Product defines retail, and the way we conceive of products, procure or manufacture them, range and present them is vital to distinctiveness and commercial success.

Multichannel trading and the growth in supply chain capability have created clear areas of focus. In a world where all products are accessible via the web (or so it seems), the question of ‘availability’ becomes a determinant of sales. Physical availability is a challenge since we need to secure a larger share of the same stock pool from brands and manufacturers, or ensure that we get the coolest/hottest (but never tepid!) premium products in a range. Merchandisers bear the brunt of deploying our buying and bullying power to get the best range. In parallel we need to be developing a flexible, responsive relationship with drop-ship vendors so as to increase our product footprint over and above the products we choose to hold in our own warehouses.

Once we have products for sale we need to move beyond simple presentation and making ‘available for sale’ – we have to create desire, perceptions of value and help the customer move from ‘interested’ through ‘purchased’ to ‘delighted’ and ‘returning’. This calls upon new skills of ranging and presentation online, as well as linking that presentation to the store experience and the delivery realities.

A final area of multichannel merchandising is the importance of algorithmic approaches to present, prioritise, promote, personalise and persuade customers. These systems are complex enough in the digital domain, but multichannel and the changing role of the store has seen the techniques extend into the real world, and further demand increased connection and coherence to provide an authentic, sustainable experience under the brand promise.

Merchandising and selling mentalities are the foundation of commerce: they turn us from operational wholesalers to customer-centred retailers. This combination of heart, gut, brain and brawn forms the battleground in multichannel retail and the source of competitive advantage and growth.

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