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    Retail Merchandising and Marketing Dollars: Finding the Right Mix

    How to get more bang for your buck… that’s a million dollar question. And right now it’s a burning question for many retailers and their marketing dollars. Unfortunately, it’s no easy answer. By using best practices for gaining social media, marketing and merchandising insight, you can maneuver yourself from being a follower to being a leader. Three of the most underrated keys to help retailers stretch their marketing dollars include:

    1. Social media analytics tools
    2. Greater communication between marketing and merchandising
    3. Category management tools

    Social Media Analytics Tools

    Within the social media jungle exists a vast pool of qualified customers. The information that is available to help retailers profile and communicate with their customers is astonishing and its rate of growth is staggering. Microsoft released an eBook in 2014 on Social Listening that showed the time (in years) that it took different forms of media to reach 50 million users. Radio took 38 years, television took 13 years, the Internet took 4 years, and Facebook took less than 9 months. In fact, it took Facebook 9 months to reach 100 million users.


    What exactly does this mean? It means that a retailer’s inability to leverage social media and the tools available to gain customer information can easily lead to poor or unfocused customer-segmented marketing campaigns, especially compared to its competitors that are using social media and social analytics tools  to their full potential. A retailer can generate a competitive advantage by monitoring online discussions about their stores and competing stores. But how exactly can you stay on top of that? Best in class retailers use tools such as Social Listening, which can scan social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs for words that are related to you; your company name, products, marketing slogans etc. This data is then compiled into easy-to-read charts and graphs to visually represent trends – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ultimately, Social Listening gives insight into online discussions about your retail business, it gives you the ability to make a one-to-one connection with customers by responding to specific comments, and allows you to understand and make the most of marketing campaigns. This type of customer insight is typically the most honest feedback you can get on your retail store and the products it is carrying.

    Greater Communication between Marketing and Merchandising

    Another thing many retailers fail to utilize, is the close connection between the marketing department and the merchandising department and their need for communication and data share. What might these two departments have to do with each other? They both heavily require invested time and effort from each other to create promotional offers that work and that can be fulfilled when customers reach the store for the desired products. Without the flow of communication, visibility into the same customer data, and customer activity in stores and online, marketing begins to target the wrong people with the wrong promotions, and merchandising creates product mixes that do not satisfy these promotional offers.

    This mess of information results in incorrect event targeting and decreased customer loyalty. What does that leave you with? Increased expenditures and unhappy stakeholders. The solution is simple; an organization that can easily enable communication and data sharing among its marketing and merchandising departments will experience an alignment in merchandising planning with promotional offers. This will help to align organizational goals and lead to the merchandising dream… the right product, at the right store, at the right time.

    Category Management Tools

    Finally, the marketing department and merchandising department need to be deeply invested and coordinated to not only provide valid promotional offers, but also to create appropriate assortments that will ultimately increase a retailer’s profitability. A great example of this was recently exemplified by Target’s “Express” store in Minneapolis. This small-formatted store is designed to bring a specific product mix to a specific, dense, urban market; bringing a new look and local feel to Target stores that will offer groceries, household items, and health and beauty products to the community. How exactly can one organization design such a specific, profitable product mix? They develop and use a retail category management forecast tool, based on geographical and actual customer demand patterns, seasonality data, and historical data. A great example of this is the retail hierarchy available in Microsoft AX 2012. This hierarchy organizes products that you sell through different retail channels and is used to categorize and group like products together. By using this tool and analyzing the information it provides, you are able to make specific conclusions to answer questions such as, “What product mix is needed for a successful product assortment promotion?”, “What product mix would most satisfy my specified geographical area?” or “What would be an appropriate customer loyalty program in my specific retail store?” All of these questions need to be answered and supported with customer data, not hunches.

    So What?

    From our experience, retailers that efficiently utilize these three underrated keys to marketing success – harnessing the power of social media analytics, opening the doors of communication between departments, and properly using category management tools – have a 34% higher availability of real-time and predictive insights into their retail business processes. Real-time and predictive insights are able to help you create personalized one-to-one connections with your customers on social media platforms; provide you with the ability to have the right product, at the right store, at the right time; and aid you in combing product mixes that make sense to your stores and your customers.

    Everyone will have their own secrets to marketing success, and this is what I have found to be key marketing tools that many retailers are falling behind on. In your experience, what has been the most useful marketing tool to support your retail business?