Retailers are currently operating in an era of hyper-competitive commerce in which competing retailers have the same products, match prices, provide similar shipping options to consumers, and enjoy flexible supply chains. There isn’t much differentiating one retailer from another.
As far as today’s consumer goes, the social, mobile and technology revolution has resulted in a shopper who is connected, informed and vocal. These shoppers are always on the lookout for the best deals and are acclimatized to dynamically changing prices. They have access to tools that help them get to the right product, on the right channel and at the best price. The modern consumer is more empowered than ever, bringing an added level of complexity to the competitive landscape.
Given these realities, not having products listed on an e-Commerce site on time and at the right price can certainly be perilous for retailers. In the long run, it may create a gradual shift of loyal and high-lifetime-value customers to competing sites. This naturally impacts market share and in turn, sales. It can also create a perception that competitors are one-upping you in terms of getting new products to market. You appear to be the laggard and may have lost your competitive edge.
High stakes, information transparency and to need to be relevant to their customers are driving retailers to benchmark assortment speed to market metrics with respect to their competitors.
However, this cannot be an ad hoc effort. It requires focused attention in terms of continuously monitoring a number of products and product categories across key competing retailer sites over an extended period of time — something that can be difficult and time-consuming to do alone. Depending on the category, this is a potential Big Data challenge and calls for relevant analytics expertise.
Understanding your time to market for a particular brand and product category combination enables you to go back and focus on one or all of the following:
- Strategic relationships — Retailers have long-standing relationships with their vendors, but what worked in the past may not hold well in today’s fast-paced digital environment. Backed with data, you are able to go back to your vendors to renegotiate supply timelines for products and / or categories where you feel you are at a disadvantage.
- Operational concerns — In many cases, vendor timelines may not be the problem. Operationally, your products may be taking a while to get online due to the volume of new products, lack of bandwidth or know-how to set these up online. If the data suggests your competition is getting their products to market much faster, you may need a revamp in the way you set up products on your website.
Several retailers are unable to create product descriptions for a large inventory of new products at a quick pace. A smart and cost-effective method of ensuring speed to market is to create templates to generate product descriptions. Templates can be made for all broad categories with placeholders for product-specific information. These templates ensure that product descriptions can be generated en masse, thus resolving speed issues.
Policy or system challenges — Retailers may have policies or systems in place where they wait for an entire batch of products from a particular vendor / designer before the merchandise appears online. Evaluating your competitors’ speed to market and potential opportunity lost in terms of lost sales may warrant a relook at these policies or systems.
One way a retailer can make up for slower speed to market is to plan assortment farther in advance by predicting which products will be hot and when. This will provide extra time, and can give a retailer a huge competitive advantage. Predictive analytics can help retailers identify what assortment to add, keep and drop. Knowing what assortment is likely to be a best seller before competitors or knowing what items to stop carrying before others can be a useful competitive edge to aid speed to market decisions. Predicting trends is regularly listed as a key risk factor on annual reports — being one step ahead of competitors could mean the difference between a profitable or unprofitable quarter.
In today’s retail environment, it has become imperative for forward-looking retailers to benchmark their assortment speed to market, investigate the likely causes of delay and take appropriate action as quickly as possible.
Mihir Kittur is Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder at Ugam, a global leader in managed analytics.