Even before essential retailers and those in fast moving goods figure out how new buying patterns look like, consumers are likely to get confused when more stores start to reopen or when they shop on digital channels. Just this past week, I was visiting my local supermarket in London and even as there were social distance queues, the product were being rationed - I could still see the typical leftover promotions and offers that were probably planned last year. I expected those buy 2-get-1 free offers to be discontinued.
And yet, I completely understand that they were negotiated long ago and served the purpose only a few short weeks back. However, this is just one example, which if not addressed, will cause serious challenges to the rapidly approaching new normal.
Instead of trying to update or validate every key merchandising decision, the place to start is simplifying the ranges being offered in stores as well as the digital channels. Now is the time to not only look at the latest data, but also know that stores will follow social distancing measures, reducing time and impacting buying patterns for a while.
The new normal will tell us to simplify the ranges on offer on what I am calling the new 4 Ps. Sure enough, we have pricing, promotion and placement, but ‘policies’ are so critical. By now, you should have looked at these in detail:
- Product choices
- Pricing and promo consistency
- Product placement
To quickly focus on those products that will simplify and elevate the buying experience, merchandise buying plans need to be quickly revised; prioritize higher demand categories at the expense of others. Similarly, everyday pricing and the careful reduction of discounts will reap immediate benefits. Past promotions will only add to shopper confusion and distortions. Taking a relook at product placement and bundling products or categories in ways that are relevant now will surely make customers happy. And more importantly, policies that are negatively impacting delivery requirements for suppliers and reducing supply need a break from today’s realities. And lastly, return policies or order quantities that further confuse customers and add time for them to complete their shopping experience should have been peeled back by now or very soon.
As retailers wait for further relaxation on social distancing measures, the time is ripe to revisit how supply chain decisions can be made quickly. Are you turning into an operation that can make merchandising decisions and carry out a 24/7 supply chain? We have gotten so used to forecasting on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, whereas today, we should be looking at much shorter horizons.
Going back to my earlier example of leftover pricing offers, I would rather see products placed or bundled together so that I finish my shopping trip much faster. There are so many ways that my store or digital experience can be updated to reflect today’s challenges. I will likely return to stores that are likely to save me time and offer me less choice, but products that I can take home or have at home when I need them.
And finally, the changes I am suggesting help meet and exceed today’s shopper expectations and not cause drastic changes to stores and their operations - Expectations that have changed so much lately, and will continue to evolve this year.