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The Art of Retail Buying in the Digital Age

By Partner


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Despite the shifting trends throughout the retail sector, one factor remains fixed - the blend of art and science in buying. Retailers today are focused on perfecting their omnichannel experience, but with new competitors constantly emerging, retailers are hyper-aware that every touchpoint needs to offer a seamless shopping experience. A carefully curated assortment elevates the customer experience, as great retail is a combination of both.

However, most retail buyers lack the proper tools to assist them with work. Many buyers still write down their orders using pen and paper and then transfer this information to Excel spreadsheets, spending time unnecessarily on manual tasks. According to data from consulting firm McKinsey up to two-thirds of a buyer’s time is spent doing ‘busy work,’ highlighting the inefficiencies of many retail buying systems today. But by providing their buyers with the correct tools, retailers can build assortments that truly speak to their customers while empowering them and streamlining their systems. Here we look at how buyers can use data effectively without taking out the art of buying.

Retail buyers lack the tools to support the digitization of their role

Retail buyers play a huge role in a retailer’s success, yet many retailers do not invest in providing tools for them. Retailers will spend millions purchasing new products each season while decisions are made offline using Powerpoint and Excel, even though there are online tools on the market that can reduce order-writing time by 50%. “In our increasingly digital world, where the use of data and analytics are essential to driving business growth and transformation, buyers are being asked to govern their brand’s data which requires hours of painstaking entry into Excel and legacy systems that ultimately separate buyers from the art of buying,” points out Chris Palmer, Senior Account Executive at NuOrder by Lightspeed.

For example, the lack of standardization between vendors, brands, and manufacturers can cause delays, confusion and time wasted on unnecessary data hygiene. What one brand may consider blue, another may call navy or indigo. The definition of a vest could be different from brand to brand, or country to country, or the way a brand photographs its samples can differ drastically, which means retailers have to do a large amount of cleanup before products are ready to go to market and the analysis can be done. However, empowered with the correct tools, retail buyers could spend up to 70% less time populating data, 90% less time emailing brands, 60% less time sizing orders, and 90% less time reviewing orders, making them more efficient and giving them more time to focus on actual purchasing decisions.

This separation from the art of buying due to manual tasks can also negatively impact buyers’ overall satisfaction at work, leading to high turnover - especially for junior buyers, who are often tasked with the 'busy work'. More and more retail buyers are keen to see and speak to their impact on the business, willing to grow in their careers by using the most sophisticated tools available on the market to do their jobs most efficiently. All of which isn't easy to do if you aren't empowered with the correct data.

Buying without adequate data poses risks to sell-through

A lack of overview (often a result of siloed departments) and outdated systems can also impact buyers' ability to make effective buying and assortment decisions. In the long run, this can cause buyers to make buying decisions without sufficient data, leading to excess assortment and loss of sales. Excess inventory leads to retailers being forced to cut prices and offload merchandise in bulk before it leaves the warehouse, often at substantial losses. Full-priced retailers in particular feel the pressure to unload excess stock of poor-selling merchandise as to not cannibalise the full-price sales, which leads to a huge loss of sales. Another issue when buying without sufficient data is a surplus of styles.

For example, buyers may be buying brand to brand and will likely purchase a few trend-driven products in addition to core products. Or they may be tasked with merchandising a certain department, region, or category without enough insight into what related products other departments are buying. So without knowing what the overall buy looks like across all brands in a certain department or category, this could lead to an overstock of trend products. “Now, rather than having ten options for low white sneakers, there are 50,” says Palmer. While trending products are essential to entice consumers, more is not always better. Consumers may think they want as many options as possible to choose from. Still, studies show that a large selection can overwhelm them and leave them more likely to abandon their shopping experience entirely.

What empowered, efficient buying looks like

“Buying can be a source of competitive differentiation for a retailer, and yet it’s a function that, from an operational perspective, is incredibly inefficient,” notes Palmer. But the most successful retailers today are those who curate their brand and product offering through effective buying and assorting. Solutions, such as the ones offered by NuOrder, provide the following:

  • Data insights into all their purchasing;
  • Better product selection due to complete overview;
  • Streamlining all purchasing from all brands onto a single overview;
  • Allocation of inventory;
  • Collecting and sharing data with other team members or brands.

By giving buying groups OR the entire buying division a clear overview, NuOrder provides retailers with a significant return on investment, evident in its recent partnership with leading US luxury department store Bloomingdale’s, which currently counts 55 locations across the country.

Working with NuOrder to launch its new Bloomie’s concept store, Bloomingdale’s digitized its buying processes by enabling its buyers and brands to collaborate digitally. This reduced time spent on written orders and preparing for style-out reviews for key buying teams. Bloomie’s was also able to curate its own unique assortment separate from Bloomingdale’s, which is designed to change frequently to appeal to a younger demographic. “In the current remote working environment, the ability to visualize the buy on our platform allowed Bloomie’s to capitalize on white space opportunities and eliminate highly manual processes,” says Olivia Skuza, Co- founder of NuORDER and General Manager, NuORDER by Lightspeed. The new concept has proven to be a success, with Bloomingdale’s opening a second Bloomie’s location in the greater Chicagoland area by the end of the year.

When buyers are empowered with aggregate data, and fewer people are needed to input that data, expand assortments, or move into new categories or territories, retailers can make more decisive and insightful purchasing choices. This leads to better sell-through rates and reduced markdowns at the end of season due to over-assorting.

In today's fast-paced, shifting retail environment, retailers' ability to speed up product item setup, rapid order writing, and product creation with an integrated online solution provides a clear advantage. By staying on top of the latest advancements in buying technology, multi-brand retailers can offer the finest curated product-focus shopping experience to the customers.

For more information, please visit NuORDER.com

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