I’ve been working in the fashion merchandising industry pretty much my whole life. From my very first job in retail as a shoe salesperson for Macy’s, to working as a makeup artist for Estee Lauder. Even as a fashion stylist for famous people such as Charlize Theron, I was dealing with merchandising.
While I didn’t realize this at the time, my entire pre-corporate background had consisted of different aspects around merchandising.
Now having worked in this industry for over ten years, I ended up as the Director of Global Merchandising for an NYC accessory company overseeing seven different brands and over $50 million dollars of revenue, so hopefully I can explain the basics of merchandising a little bit.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS MERCHANDISING?
Merchandising is basically comprised of two parts: visual and analytical.
Many people have heard of visual merchandising and understand that the way merchandise is displayed in a store has something to do with visual merchandising.
Analytical or the buying side of merchandising, however, is much different.
When dealing with the buying side of merchandising you are often dealing with a lot of numbers, analytics, excel spreadsheets and forecasting.
Sounds sort of boring right?
While the numbers side of merchandising is not as creative as the visual merchandising side, I’ve grown to appreciate and truly love this subject as it’s not something one can learn overnight.
It's also a skill that is extremely useful in the business world in general.
While visual merchandising is more of an artistic skill, merchandise buying can also be creative, but in a much more analytical and knowledge-based foundation.
You’re probably wondering how me working at Macy’s as a shoe salesperson, a makeup artist for Estee Lauder, and even a stylist can constitute as having something to do with merchandising.
Well, each of these roles whether I knew it or not consisted of selling products at different price points and convincing a customer to purchase.
You may be asking, “but what about the styling position?” How does this involve merchandising?
Well, the styling position was essentially visual merchandising.
A stylist’s job is to create the vision for either the creative director, photographer, editor or even the talent itself.
Everything selected from the apparel to the shoes, accessories, hair and makeup had to be “visually merchandised” into the role or vision that the person directing wanted.
It's the same for a retail store.
The visual merchandising direction has to convey a certain look and make a customer want to buy something.
Although it's not exactly the same as styling, it's similar in that it's a visual process.
You may be skeptical of this scenario, but let me tell you that every single person is affected by merchandising. You deal with it every single day of your life.
Did you go to Starbucks and have a coffee today? If so, you experienced what merchandising is all about, and it’s not necessarily that they put those yummy biscotti cookies near the register (although that is a part of it).
Or if you went grocery shopping today, you absolutely encountered some massive merchandising techniques that you definitely were not even aware of.
Here is the exact definition of merchandising taken from dictionary.com
“the planning and promotion of sales by presenting a product to the right market at the proper time, by carrying out organized, skillful advertising, using attractive displays, etc.”
This definition may seem a bit basic and uninformative which is one reason why merchandising still is such a mystery to many people.
Now bear with me here in this next discussion...
Toilet Paper and Luxury Handbags Both Use Merchandising Strategies
A great and simple way to look at the process and reasoning behind merchandising is to understand consumer behavior.
As humans, we like choices when it comes to both our purchasing patterns and the way we visually make decisions.
When we go into the grocery store and need to purchase some toilet paper, for example, there are obviously going to be a variety of options.
There’s single rolls, a four-pack, nine-pack or even twenty-four pack.
There’s ultra plush, septic tank friendly, and double roll options.
Within each of the brand's products, they have multiple options.
To decide on toilet paper as a weekly or monthly consumer decision we are all a part of this whole merchandising experience.
Although toilet paper cannot really be compared to say the merchandising strategies of a designer brand, the overall concept, and different options and price points is an underlying and basic foundation in merchandising.
If we take this same scenario for say a designer brand such as Louis Vuitton you’ll notice some similarities.
Louis Vuitton is one of the most recognized luxury brand names in the world and they can obviously charge for this.
However, not everyone can afford to purchase one of their monogram bags at an average price point of $1,500 so they also offer smaller bags at lower price points - for example, a small (teeny-tiny) coin purse for $300, or a $200 card holder.
Wallets come in at about $700 and then they offer travel cases and luggage at $5,000 or even a golf bag at $13,000!
So as you can see there is something for everyone.
They even do this within the same style or type of fabrication in order to offer different tiers to satisfy different consumers.
Some people will not care about the price point and will only be looking at the exact shape of the bag or style they want.
But some (most) people are more price conscious and want to get the most “bang for their buck”.
So even though they can get a smaller bag for $1,1000 for example, there’s a much larger bag for $1,500 so suddenly the extra $400 doesn’t seem too bad.
Makes sense right?
Although it may sound crazy - like who spends $2k on a bag sort of thing, pricing strategies are all a part of merchandising.
Now obviously these two examples are completely extreme opposites, but hopefully, you can understand that every single brand no matter the product has a merchandising strategy within their assortment of products.
It doesn’t matter whether you sell high-end luxury bags or different toilet paper weights, companies are always looking to satisfy their customer needs and wants.
SO WHAT DOES A MERCHANDISING ROLE LOOK LIKE FOR MY COMPANY?
In the world of fashion merchandising, the main role of the Merchandiser is the responsibility to figure out what exactly needs to be sold. They are responsible for creating a plan for the designer based on a variety of factors.
These factors are small steps you can take TODAY in your merchandising strategy.
Factor #1 - What does my customer want?
If you are just starting out in the world of selling products you may not exactly even know what this is yet.
This is probably the hardest part of merchandising. Once you begin to sell and receive feedback, is the most important factor in merchandising.
The main issue to remember is that people have many different ideas of what a good product is.
Designers will often push merchandisers to convince them that this is THE product you absolutely must keep in the collection. Granted, sometimes they are right. However, as the Merchandiser you should know best what your customer wants and needs.
For example, working for a large company there have been times when certain creatives will want a specific color or style to include in the collection.
You may even find yourself having this dilemma as well. Say the color red is a hot color for the season but you know that your factory’s MOQ (minimum order quantity) is 600 pieces per color. In the past you have NEVER sold red.
Do you think it would be a wise decision to offer multiple red styles?
The main concept to remember is that there needs to be a mix between what is trending and what your customer needs.
This is a common mistake among wholesalers and retailers alike.
Factor #2 - How should I price my product?
Pricing your product is one of the hardest and most subjective things to do in your business. Many people will figure out what they are going to sell their price from strictly a margin perspective. Meaning they will figure out how much the cost of the product is and then mark it up about 50-70%. This is all wrong people! You cannot figure our your price points based on a regular markup formula.
There are many factors within the pricing factor - doesn’t that sound confusing? It really isn’t. What it boils down to is perceived value. If your product can justify a certain price point then you should sell it for that price.
How do I figure this out you may ask?
The main way is to check out your competition. What are other people in your product category selling their products for?
There is no exact formula to figuring out your price point, but in general you need to be making an average of a 50% margin. However, when you are first starting out it is very common to have lower margins.
The main goal is to sell more so that you can get cheaper prices from your factory. All parties need to make money, which is why your factory will typically charge you more for a small MOQ (minimum order quantity) in order to make a profit as well. Until you begin selling larger quantities your margins are most likely going to suck. This is why it’s so hard to actually make money in your first year.
Factor #3 - What is actually selling?
The third factor in understanding merchandising is figuring out what exactly is working. And when I say working, I mean selling.
The thing is, if your products aren’t selling you need to take a step back and ask yourself why.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Is the price too expensive?
- Does this not fit into the brand’s image?
- Do customers not understand this?
- Who is the target customer buying this?
You can have all the positive reactions and praise in the world but if you’re not selling you need to get to the root of the problem.
Talk to people. Find out what they think of your product.
More importantly talk to decision makers and buyers in your field. Ask them specific reasons as to why they don’t think this product works for them.
*This doesn’t have to be the end-all to that particular style/product, but you need to get as much feedback as possible.
Find out what does work for them.
Are there any products or brands that they just can’t get enough of? Research these brands and analyze what elements they do well. Have they got a lot of press? Is the design appeal more attractive/unique? What are their price points?
*These are all things to take into account when actually creating your collection (which we will definitely get into more detail in a later post).
Be a detective.
You have to get craazzzy detail oriented here. Take note of everything buyers say to you. Figure out what your competition is selling their products for and create a chart. Ideally you should focus on the brands or products that you know are working best - based upon what you’ve heard from talking to people. Make sure to document everything you can learn about successful brands. By emulating some of their strategies you may find things that work to your own brand’s advantage.
Click here to get your free merchandising strategy chart to apply to your business.
Factor #4 - What’s trending?
The trend factor can be a bit subjective for the most part but overall you can definitely see some major trends among the fashion industry overall. The important thing to figure out is whether the trend is a one time seasonal style, or does it actually have some legs.
An example of this would be the skinny jean. Yes the skinny pant has been around for quite some time so it’s not necessarily considered a trend anymore, but there was in fact a long period of time that skinny jeans were not popular at all.
In fact, up until about ten years ago, everyone was wearing boot cut or flare jeans. Of course the fashionistas and fashion leaders of the the world had been wearing for quite some time, but for the average woman, this trend took a while to adapt.
Now, however we are seeing the shift back to a bootcut or flare high rise jean. I would say about every ten years there is a huge shift in a major article of clothing, it’s shape/silhouette, and also the erogenous zones.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
Is this a long term trend like a skinny jean, or more of a one-time/fad?
Does this trend even fit into our brand’s image/pricing strategy?
For example, if leather jackets are a huge trend, but your price points are much lower and your focus is knits, it probably doesn’t make sense for you to add a leather jacket just because this style is trending.
That’s a big problem that many people make. They have shiny objection syndrome. You cannot be everything to everyone.
Now that you’ve read the four ways you can apply merchandising strategies to your business today, it’s time to get started!
These are not complicated steps or strategies, just simple ways of really getting down to the core of who your customer is and exactly what IS and IS NOT working.
Any questions? Leave a comment below!