"How can money be the root of all evil, when shopping is the cure for all sadness..." Elizabeth Taylor
Many people ask me what I see as the biggest problem area in retailing today and I normally have little hesitation in answering – RANGING. I believe that “if the dogs don’t like the dog food they won’t eat it!” And that really is what ranging is about – providing a range with sufficient width and depth that suits the target market.
The biggest problem in ranging? Lack of adequate range planning, which more often than not leads to width and depth problems, amongst the most notable being:
- Too much width in terms of classifications – literally trying to be “all things to all people”. This invariably destroys depth.
- Too much width in terms of the price parameters – trying to cover all income factors. Again, this destroys depth and often points up the fact that little thought has been given to market segmentation.
- Lack of depth in terms of quantity of best sellers resulting in out of stocks of basic core lines and those lines the retailer can ill afford to run out of.
- Lack of depth in terms of the choice offered within classifications – “if you don’t like that particular item – bad luck!”
- In some cases too much depth (depending whether we determine brands are a width or depth factor which often gets back to how we classify) by stocking too many brands without providing a point of difference in terms of features, price points, quality or whatever. In other words – unnecessary duplication of range.
- Failing to range with co-ordination in mind. Being able to merchandise co-ordinates is the obvious way to build the average number of items sold per person, and to me there is little excuse for unco-ordinated broken ranges. You see it happening a lot in apparel and furniture. So buying with co-ordination in mind is critical to effective range planning.
- Advertised lines that bear no relationship to the normal range and have no sell up when a low margin is necessary to draw store traffic.
- Crucifying “sell up” lines by slashing prices unnecessarily, indicating lack of thought in selecting promotional lines.
- Before I get off ranging, I always stress to retailers to get the depth factors right first before expanding the width. Obviously the objective is a balanced range with both width and depth but, invariably, I see retailers that are experiencing ranging problems addressing width factors first and then trying to achieve depth – often failing in the process.
One point, however, is that depth, of course, means different things to different styles of retailers. The little upmarket exclusive boutique would not want depth in terms of quantity so that exclusivity is preserved – and this would form part of their business philosophy and image. The major discounter, however, must have depth in terms of quantity otherwise they destroy their credibility.
I’ve been out and around prowling through shops, doing some homework about what’s going on in the retail landscape.
Here’s some of what I found:
- Image is all about perception. How is your shop perceived by the shopping public? That perception is shaped by your advertising (including social media), the external appearance of your shop, the internal factors such as layout, colour schemes, fixturing, floor coverings, sounds (including music), merchandise ranges, lighting, attitude of the staff, ticketing and other promotional activity – to name just a few.
- The main problems I see in this regard are invariably conflicts of image from the outside to the inside and/or conflicts with the standard range and promotional merchandise, and in many instances, this comes about because the retailer has given little (if any) thought to the image they wish to project.
- If they are totally clear in their mind as to the image they want to portray – how they want to be perceived – then conflicts of image are unlikely to occur. Let me illustrate what I’m on about:
- One small apparel shop had me totally confused when on the outside I was seeing downmarket colour schemes and signing, but when I entered I was taken upmarket with tasteful quality fixturing. The floor was polished boards more suitable to a young market and yet the merchandise was only middle income aimed at ‘mature’ women.
- Another women’s fashion boutique – aimed very much upmarket, certainly looked it from the outside with colours and signing and the window display, but then I got a let-down inside with the wrong colour carpet, walls and ceiling, cheap fixturing and feature tickets stating price points at the bottom of the market, poorly hand written, coloured red on white (down marketing to me) and stuck to the racks with stickytape! I suppose I should have been relieved they didn’t use blutak…
- Another larger retailer I looked at was tastefully signed with a marble front but the moment you got inside you were taken downmarket at 100km per hour with rows and rows of side hung apparel on the walls in unbroken lines without any display points in evidence and masses of round floor racks. Reeked of cheap!
- Another retailer made the fatal mistake of projecting an upmarket image throughout, that frightened off their typical customer (and their established base) as well as the customer who was attracted to the shop because in that instance the range was pitched below their lifestyle and taste levels.
- A furniture retailer whose strongest price point in lounge suites was around the $1000 mark, ie their typical customers spend between $600 and $1300, was losing their business because they were allowing their store managers to buy to their taste level which was NOT compatible with their typical customer. As a result 80% of stock on the floor was priced over $1300 when in fact it really should have been the reverse – 80% below $1300 was perhaps closer to being right!
- Some buying/promotional groups have been guilty (and a few still are) of including too many lines of a “one-up” nature in catalogues that likewise bear little relationship to what their credibility is based on. One might well ask the question whether these groups have really done any range planning in terms of basic standard ranges that will be in all stores (with expansion of that range for the larger ones) – where it is possible to do this.
- A discounter that laid claim to being such, presented his store in a very low key “soft sell” manner when he was operating at the lower end of the market. He didn’t present the image of a real discounter. Instead, he should have been hitting it hard with strong, aggressive ticketing, massive displays etc. A conventional retailer nearby was merchandising stronger than he was and taken the business off him, in some instances at higher prices!
- A shop operating about the middle of the market was having a “stock take sell out” sale and stuck with their standard layout and display methods – they simply signed the windows and increased the number of tickets.
Retailers should never be afraid to “rough their store up” in a genuine sale – whilst its on. This creates a “bargain” environment and adds to the excitement and atmosphere and shouldn’t cause any permanent damage to their image.
Hopefully your image is making sense to your customers. If not, you might want to revisit and fix things!