Why Responsive Merchandising is Retailers’ Key to Meeting Customer Needs
Picture yourself as an associate in a retail store. You just finished straightening up the rack when a potential customer walks in. At that moment, a dynamic relationship begins. You’re assuming and inferring, and forming a mosaic from the minutiae of details. The customer is surveying the signage to decide where to go and making snap judgments based on their first impressions of color and layout. Then you ask, “Hi there, anything I can help you with?”
What happened in those few seconds started long before asking the shopper if they needed help. A silent conversation was unfolding, synapses were firing on the inside, and there was subtle posturing on the outside. Decisions were made and the relationship was just beginning.
As Google’s Senior Vice President of Ads and Commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy noted, “the successful brands of tomorrow will be those that have a strategy for understanding and meeting consumers’ needs in these micro-moments.”
So how can these needs be met? And what's the secret for it? Let’s explore responsive merchandising.
What is Responsive Merchandising?
Responsive merchandising is the real-time understanding and attentiveness to a potential customer’s wants and needs. Responsive merchandisers work to continuously predict customer preferences and instantly recalibrate in order to create a more personalized customer experience. In digital merchandising, a variety of marketing tools are using automation in an attempt to make up for the missing human element. However, without the help of humans, digital consumers can still get lost in the endless aisle.
But what if we viewed bounce rate the same as we did a consumer walking into our store, browsing for a few minutes, and then promptly leaving? There are entire university courses on how to create world-class in-store experiences so that customers are delighted the moment they enter. Do retailers view their bounce rates with the same sense of urgency?
Understanding Responsive Merchandising
Responsive merchandising is all about absorbing critical data and taking action on insight. Physical or digital, responsive merchandising isn’t about selling, it’s about improving the customer experience in those micro-moments that pulse throughout the entire consumer journey. While it seems obvious that responsive merchandising is something all brick-and-mortar and digital retailers would be focused on improving, customer experience is in a state of decline.
If you really want to be a responsive merchandiser in the digital world, it’s important to invest in (and trust) a customer engagement platform that can create a mosaic of your customer and in real-time present to them the most relevant products — just as you would have done for them had they entered your physical store.
It’s easier said than done, but the future of responsive merchandising is going to demand leaning on and trusting technological solutions just as we lean on and trust our interpersonal skills.
How to Get Started
If you’re just starting to think about responsive merchandising, here are a few ways to get started:
- Step 1: Assess your existing retail environments and conduct a needs assessment to map out where you are and how to get where you want to go. Consider things like whether you have a physical store or if you recently launched an e-commerce platform. Lay it all out, even if it feels basic.
- Step 2: Determine where you're shining and struggling as a responsive merchandiser. It’s important to note that this can involve everything from how customers are greeted in your physical store and how their shipments are personalized to the effectiveness of your voice commerce. It’s all worth improving, and should therefore be viewed subjectively.
- Step 3: Establish smart goals based on the insights from your needs assessment, then set your vision and the key performance indicators that will serve as guideposts along the way.
Whether you’ve recently learned about the term, chances are you’ve been thinking about responsive merchandising for a long time. By better understanding what responsive merchandising is and following these steps, you can be on your way to mastering this approach.
Cameron Conaway currently serves as the director of content for Reflektion, a provider of individualized personalization solutions for the retail industry.