The Role of Product and The Merchant in a Customer Driven World

August 9 | 10:45AM - 12:00PM

C & D Concourse

Topic Discussion Women in Retail

Presented by Asset Strategies Group and bella crescita consulting

In the realm of retail, it wasn’t too long ago that the merchant was queen (or, if you will, king). But, times have clearly changed, and now retail is as confused as it is purposeful, thoughtful and proactive. It used to be that the merchants drove the trends and had a supersized role in determining what we wore. But, those days have very much disappeared, as seasonal fashion blends together and, well, frankly, the need to drive those big product trends has changed. But, I would contend that, even in the face of the fickle consumer and the in-charge shoppers of today, there still is a need for the merchant, and perhaps more so now than ever. And beyond that need, I propose … that merchants need to rise up as retail superheroes! Today’s superhero merchants are the ones who love data, understand that customers have a tremendous amount of choice and that they have to want to shop with you and, finally, understand today’s shopper has to find product that is delightful, appropriately priced, and available wherever and whenever she wants it.

Actively developing future talent -As a result, retailers are increasingly focused on cultivating a pipeline of up-and-coming leaders while simultaneously recruiting proven industry superstars.
A more complex understanding of the customer: Until recently, a merchant’s success was based on his or her ability to forecast trends, select or develop products, and profitably manage a business. These responsibilities obviously required a clear understanding of the customer. However, understanding the customer has become exponentially more complex in recent times. Merchants must now evaluate data analytics, patterns in online shopping behavior, and fluid pop culture and entertainment trends. They must also gauge the impact of macroeconomic conditions on consumption habits. Then merchants must integrate all of these data points with their own customer experience to make the most impactful business decisions that affect company direction.

Multidisciplinary experience: A key merchant, in order to become a successful future leader, must now have experience in at least one or more related but separate disciplines (e.g., e-commerce, marketing, design, systems and planning). They must also leverage this experience in order to collaborate cross-departmentally, particularly with the marketing and design teams.

The changing nature of the merchant role calls for a re-evaluation of the criteria for recruiting and assessing merchants. Assessing the non-merchandising abilities of a senior merchant is just as important as understanding customer tastes and moods.  A transformed retail market, a redefined merchant role and new criteria for assessing that role — skilled merchants are in high demand and recruiting them requires far more time and resources than in the past. Suggestions:

• experience outside of merchandising;
• understanding of branding, marketing and customer analytics, and newly developed technology that tracks customer behavior;
• ability to work with multiple, inter-related customer profiles (as opposed to a single customer profile); and
• ability to influence other parts of the organization (e.g., marketing, customer experience and strategic planning)


Topic Experts