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Good morning and welcome to The Merchant Life – Saturday Morning Edition for retailers and retail enthusiasts seeking the insider perspective of all things retail.

As the debate between physical and digital retail continues and the metaverse is the new kid on the block, our focus remains in determining the right product mix, despite channel, that delights customers (and leads to full-price sales).

The question we ask in this edition of the newsletter: What do we need to think about as we think about evolving merchandising?

We visited ShopTalk 2022 and learned what brands are doing to refresh their practice of merchandising and how technology is helping.

Refill that ☕ and let’s dive in.

Post-Covid Merchandising

Merchandising must evolve.

There is no choice.

We overbuy and overproduce.

We use archaic ways of working that have been around YEARS.

Merch and planning processes are so outdated that rumor has it that many retailers still use fax and email zip files to correspond with their factories 🤦🏽‍♀️

fax GIF
How innovative, four way stretch garments are born.

If you’ve read previous editions of the newsletter, we have probably said the following as it relates to the state of merchandising:

  1. Digital tools must be enabled to help merchants get to market faster.
  3. Retailers have a shrinking margin of error in giving the customer the right product at the right time and in the right channel.
  4. The volume is being cranked up on the topic of sustainability.
  5. Knowing the customer through data insights will drive more inclusive product assortments.

So, the question is what do we do about it?

Let’s approach it this way…

Which brands shifted the way they worked and used the pandemic to learn how to plan and assort product differently?

Aside from the marquee brands like Nike, Levi’s and lululemon…we wanted to know about other brands who are actively ditching traditional merch practices.

For those answers, we need to take a trip to the strip.

…the Las Vegas strip that is.

ShopTalk 2022 – Fundamentals for the Future

We left the great white north and flew down to the desert to attend ShopTalk in Las Vegas.

Shhhh, it’s starting!

Word on the street is that 10,000 people showed up to talk the shop.

Some of that talk was about merchandising.

Here’s an assortment of highlights (bonus points if you see what we did there):

🟡 1. Diverse merchandising is happening.

Merch leaders from REI, Sephora and Stitch Fix discussed the importance of diversity in assortments and the DEI strides each company is making.

Priya Venkatesh, SVP of Merchandising for Sephora, said there is a need to help merchants seek out more BIPOC brands. The Sephora Accelerate program helps to do just that – focusing on founders of color to increase BIPOC representation in Sephora’s assortment. In addition, ditching terms like ‘ethnic hair aisle’ and switching to ‘discovery zones’ was a key step for re-branding in store.

Susan Viscon, SVP of Corporate Development & Investment at REI, launched a portal where vendors would have direct access to REI buyers. The brand also used social media to promote BIPOC brands by sharing stories and engaging new customer segments. REI Path Ahead Ventures was also created to fund and invest $30 million in 300 founders of color as they start and scale their businesses in the outdoor industry.

Loretta Choy, Chief Merchandising Officer of Stitch Fix, discussed investments in extended sizing. The company saw plus size business grow since start of pandemic 50% year over year; naturally they viewed this as opportunity. They leveraged the data to serve an underserved market of plus sizes thus evolving their product assortments.

As Loretta remarked: “Style is for everyone.”

🟡 2. Efficiencies enabled through technology is critical from concept to market.

The Tech StartUp Spotlight On Marketing And Merchandising solidified the fact that art + science will make merchandising more impactful.

The benefit of using digital tools? Eliminating guesswork and redundant manual tasks in addition to reducing extensive buyer travel will give time back to merchants.

The speakers left us with the following:

Dan Leahy, Co-Founder & CEO of MakerSights, a collaborative assortment management workspace, says retailers must be open to change. Change in ways of working and building assortments while enabling real-time insights throughout the buyer journey.

Eytan Daniyalzade, Co-Founder & CEO of Toolio, a data-driven merchandising and planning solution, says investing in data operations as early as possible is a must. Reason being, there is an impending shift for planners to move away from Excel because of its limitations.

Kristin Savilia, CEO of Joor, a digital wholesale platform that excelled during the pandemic, says investing in your wholesale processes and making them digital is critical. Digitizing wholesale showed retailers that they don’t have to touch EVERY sample or visit EVERY showroom; there was a more efficient way to buy.

🟡 3. The conversation on sustainability is louder than we first thought.

With an entire track dedicated to sustainability, this theme seemed to trickle into every session of the conference.

Aaron Cheris, Partner at Bain & Co, stressed the importance of creating and meeting ESG objectives.

It’s not just important for the environment, it’s important for the bottom line:

Source: Aaron Cheris (Bain & Co.) – Insights on the Major Forces Shaping Retail, ShopTalk 2022

In almost every 1:1 meeting we had with those in attendance, sustainability was a topic of conversation to some extent. All acknowledge the importance of the topic, some are new to tackling the issues while others are chipping away at the problem.

Pending legislation along with fragmentation in the space (e.g. no single, unified definition of what sustainability is) makes this more challenging.

Nonetheless, the importance cannot be understated.

Regardless of where at retailer resides in the sustainability journey, Aaron provides these key takeaways for retailers:

Source: Aaron Cheris (Bain & Co.) – Insights on the Major Forces Shaping Retail, ShopTalk 2022

More to Come:

No doubt, we were enthralled with the discussion at ShopTalk.

The progression towards better merchandising was encouraging.

We were hungry for more and so we sat down with many of the speakers at the event to talk further.

Full interviews are going to be in future editions of the newsletter.

For now, we get to give you the following samples.

1. Interview with Mack Weldon CEO, Brian Berger:

2. Interview with Joor CEO, Kristin Savilia:

3. Interview with Toolio CEO, Eytan Daniyalzade:

RSG Highlights:

🎙️ Channel Mastery Podcast

Episode 188 of The Channel Mastery podcast by Verde Brand Communications is now live!

Highlights include:

💡 The “How” and “Why” behind the start of Retail Strategy Group.
💡 The necessity of moving the customer to the center of retail decision making.
💡 The barriers that retailers face that slow down their GTM plans and how to remove them.

Click on the picture caption above to find the full episode.

Sourcing Journal Virtual Event on May 4th

Balancing physical and digital channel growth has been a complicated battle for many retailers.

Join Liza in a panel discussion with Asad Ahmed, Michael Natenshon and Rebecca Goldberg, hosted by the great team at Sourcing Journal.

We will talk about:

🔸 Determining the right channel mix
🔸 What to consider when scaling your brand
🔸 What tools will help improve visibility across channel

📺 Register Here –>

Avoid the pain by registering.

Retail Innovation Conference & Expo – Live in Chicago

The Retail Innovation Conference & Expo takes place from May 10th to 12th and features speakers from: Abercrombie and Fitch, Aerie, M&Ms, FRYE, e.l.f. beauty, Google and Retail Strategy Group.

Liza will be in conversation with Target EVP, Chief Food & Beverage Officer, Rick Gomez. We will dig into Target’s investment in fulfillment innovation, merchandise planning and their strategy to provide customers with a diverse product assortment.

She will also be sitting down with a selected group of BIPOC women to talk resiliency during the pandemic. We will dig into how shifting into inclusivity, diversity and authenticity helped Kido, KOTN and Gwen Beloti allowed them to scale during the pandemic.

✔️ Interested in attending? Get your all access pass (with my 50% discount code) immediately. This conference is not to be missed: RICE50P07