Understanding leading retailers

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1 Retail Understanding leading retailers Insights from the IBM Retail Merchant survey

2 2 Understanding leading retailers In the digital age, customers sit in the driver s seat. The most successful retailers have responded by putting shoppers at the heart of the merchandising process. We ve identified a small group of firms that outperform their peers, thanks in part to three traits: they have merchandising functions that are customer-oriented, collaborate across internal and external boundaries and use analytics to make smarter business decisions. The term customer-centric has almost become a cliché. Search for it on Google and you ll get more than 12 million hits, as retailers everywhere talk about focusing on digitally enfranchised shoppers and providing a more personalized, interactive experience. 1 But our research shows that the majority of retailers are still struggling to become customeroriented. The most successful retailers, by contrast, put the customer at the heart of the merchandising process. The best and the rest Empowered customers are changing how they shop and most merchandising executives realize they have to raise their game. A full 83 percent of those we recently surveyed told us they re concerned about how to respond to shifts in the way customers engage with retailers, while 78 percent worry about being able to provide a holistic, cross-channel experience. But recognizing and resolving a problem are quite different things. Two-thirds of respondents admit that their merchandising function still focuses primarily on products or categories, not customers. And three-quarters say there s very little, if any, collaboration between the marketing and merchandising functions. About the study The IBM Center for Applied Insights, in conjunction with Planet Retail, surveyed 325 senior merchandising executives in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, India and Australia, in These respondents cover 10 retail segments, including grocery, mass merchandise and apparel. Forty-eight percent of them work in large enterprises (employing 1,000 or more people), while 52 percent work in medium-sized enterprises (employing people). When we probed more deeply, though, we identified a small cadre of retailers with merchandising functions that are both customer-oriented and collaborative. They also rely much more heavily on analytics to drive customer insights into the merchandising process. These Leaders, as we call them, have yet another distinguishing trait; they re more successful than their rivals. When customers visit a Leader s store, they tend to spend more than they do when they visit those of other retailers. And what happens on Main Street filters through to Wall Street. 2 Between 2009 and 2012, the Leaders that are publicly traded saw their stock prices climb as much as three times faster than the rest (see Figure 1). So what, exactly, are the leaders doing differently? 3

3 3 Distinguishing the Leaders 1.4x 3x 40% 29% 30% 10% % of respondents with an average customer spend per visit > Stock Price CAGR High 26 % 15 % Customer focus 47 % 12 % Leading merchandisers All other merchandisers Low Low Collaboration with marketing High Figure 1 Customer-oriented, collaborative Leaders sell more and see benefits in stock price increases.

4 4 Understanding leading retailers Concentrating on our customers For a start, they are focusing much more sharply on the customer. Compared with other retailers, the Leaders are almost twice as likely to have merchandising functions that pay close attention to the cues customers provide. We analyze the daily transactions in the store and make all our planning and pricing decisions accordingly, a U.K. merchandising executive explained. But this emphasis on the customer isn t confined to merchandising. It applies to the organization as a whole. More than half of the Leaders have top executives trained to understand the needs of customers. And more than half employ a specific individual or team be it a Chief Customer Officer, Customer Council or other such entity to manage their customer capabilities. That s double the level in other retailers (see Figure 2). Customer focus is pervasive The organization s customer-centric capabilities are managed by a dedicated individual or team (e.g., a Chief Customer Officer, VP of Sales, Customer Council, etc.). 27% 54% 2x Business leaders have skills and are trained in understanding customer needs. 26% 56% 2.2x There is a dedicated budget for customer-centric capabilities. 20% 40% 2x Customer-centric capabilities are measured using a dedicated set of metrics. 21% 33% 1.6x Leading merchandisers All other merchandisers Figure 2 Leaders place more weight on customer focus throughout their organizations.

5 5 The Leaders are also twice as likely to earmark part of their budgets expressly for honing their customer skills. And they re more likely to use dedicated metrics to measure their performance against customer-oriented goals. Relatively few other retailers do either of these things. In addition, many more Leaders draw on the customer insights they ve gleaned to make merchandising decisions, whether that s choosing which products to carry, how to display them or how to price and promote them. And they drive information on customers buying behavior back through the supply chain to keep the right amounts of stock in the right places at the right times. Being able to see what we re selling and not selling, and which items aren t worth carrying, is incredibly valuable, a Canadian merchandising executive noted. U.S. mass merchant studies individual customers to serve them better Studying the purchasing behavior of individual customers has helped a well-known mass merchant in the United States grow top-line sales for key categories by more than three percent. It spotted a number of new opportunities for selling home care products, discovered and filled a hole in its portfolio of personal care products and identified a new, more effective way of merchandising softlines. It also learned that it needed to allocate more shelf space for white-label foods and pinpointed where it could save space by cutting the range of brands it stocked. Careful analysis of what its customers bought unearthed several other insights. For example, shoppers who bought branded items in one category tended to buy branded items in sister categories, and certain brands were particularly popular with high-spending shoppers, even though sales in the overall category were flat. Armed with this information, the retailer could co-promote related products and display them together. It could also promote the brands that attracted the big spenders more heavily, thereby encouraging these customers to visit its stores more frequently and spend more while they were there.

6 6 Understanding leading retailers Collaborating inside and across corporate boundaries Intense customer focus is one feature that separates the Leaders from other retailers. A second is the degree to which they collaborate across organizational and functional boundaries. Sixty percent of the Leaders have merchandising functions that work closely with external suppliers to develop new products, and 58 percent jointly analyze customer data. Similarly, 67 percent consult suppliers when they re devising new pricing strategies, and 69 percent do so when developing new promotional strategies. The merchandising functions in lower-performing retailers tend to be much more isolationist. Only a quarter of them collaborate with suppliers to analyze data. And only a third liaise with suppliers to develop new products, pricing strategies or promotional campaigns. Nevertheless, the trend toward cooperation is likely to increase. Manufacturers are getting smarter. I believe we ll be looking to work more closely, to share more data, to work more collaboratively in both marketing and merchandising. This deep-rooted collaboration is closely linked to a fundamental difference in perceptions of who owns the customer. The Leaders are twice as likely as other retailers to share the task of managing and nurturing the customer relationship among several functions. They re also better equipped to harness technology in the merchandising process. More than half of the Leaders employ key merchandising personnel who are not only knowledgeable about technology, but can clearly articulate their requirements. And more than half have merchandising functions that work closely with the IT function so that it invests in the most appropriate solutions. We need the right technical people to maximize sales and profits, an Australian merchandising executive explained. Functions are highly collaborative Merchandising 40% 67% 1.7x What s true outside corporate walls is equally true within. The merchandising, marketing and IT functions in most retailers collaborate with each other to some extent and, even in organizations where cross-functional collaboration is quite limited, many respondents expect it to grow. But those in the leading institutions already interact far more fully (see Figure 3). Indeed, they sometimes cooperate so completely that their roles and responsibilities merge. Marketing IT 39% 48% 35% Leading merchandisers All other merchandisers 69% 1.8x 1.4x Figure 3 Leaders collaborate extensively across functions.

7 7 Building an electronic bridge to suppliers A shared electronic platform for handling trade promotions has brought one big North American grocery retailer much closer to its suppliers. The retailer has replaced its paper-based system with a web-based portal for preparing, submitting and managing deal contracts. The portal handles more than half a million transactions a year, saving both the retailer and its suppliers many hours of labor on activities like entering data, tracking contracts and checking invoices. It s also eliminated vast piles of paper and saved money, by reducing printing, postage and storage costs, improving the accuracy of the billing process and reducing postaudit recovery fees. But the retailer reports that, by far, the biggest benefits are a better relationship with its suppliers and a more customer-centric promotion planning process. Crunching the numbers to get clearer insights Lastly, the Leaders use analytics much more extensively than other retailers and they start by collecting a wider variety of customer data. Of course, most retailers capture transaction and point-of-sale data. Some also run loyalty programs, which can be a rich vein of information about individual customers buying patterns, preferences and lifestyle. What sets the Leaders apart is the fact that they are more likely both to collect such data and to integrate it with intelligence from other sources. For example, 42 percent buy syndicated data, and 29 percent buy world panel data, combining information on household purchasing patterns with data on consumer attitudes, media consumption and the like. By way of comparison, only 17 percent of other retailers buy syndicated data and only 13 percent buy world panel data. The Leaders also use that data to extract meaningful insights and inform a wide range of merchandising activities (see Figure 4). Compared to other retailers, they use analytics more comprehensively across the board, whether that s to help them make better marketing, sales and sourcing decisions or to optimize the efficiency of their supply chains.

8 8 Understanding leading retailers We ve computerized everything to get data back, a U.S. merchandising executive told us. We rely on industry trends. We communicate with different vendors in person, and we keep a close eye on much larger vendor stores. He s not alone. We do proper market analysis and segment-ation to plan a customer-focused strategy, said a U.K. merchandising executive. Leaders stand out in one final respect and it s core to the concept of analytics: the emphasis they place on measuring results. Two-thirds of them think it s critical to monitor the effectiveness of their merchandising, which explains why the Leaders are twice as likely as other retailers to measure the success of their pricing, promotional and assortment activities. In other words, analytics is embedded in the normal routine of the Leaders, whereas other retailers often treat it as a nice-tohave extra. And that s reflected in the resources they ve put in place. The merchandising functions in two-thirds of the Leaders collect enough data to perform advanced analyses, and more than half can analyze the data themselves. By contrast, only a third of the merchandising functions in other retailers have the necessary data or skills. The Leaders are also more willing to seek outside assistance when they need it: 33 percent turn to manufacturers and 31 percent to external analytics providers. Yet only a small fraction of the other merchandisers in our sample look out-of-house for help. This may seem ironic, given that the Leaders have much higher levels of in-house expertise, but it s yet another indication of their more collaborative ethos. Currently use analytics for: Understand/predict customer buying behaviors Inform merchandising strategies Inform promotion or pricing strategies Product assortment planning Understand how customers interact with the business across different channels 47% 42% 40% 37% 39% Leading merchandisers All other merchandisers 63% 63% 63% Figure 4 Leaders apply analytics to a wide range of merchandising activities. 73% 69% 1.6x 1.6x 1.6x 1.7x 1.6x

9 9 PAC 2000A uses analytics to optimize price Driving a profitable pricing strategy in the face of stiff competition is a tough business. That s the challenge retailers cooperative PAC 2000A recently faced. The group is a leading retailer throughout central and southern Italy, operating in an intensely competitive environment, complicated by regional nuances. The retailer knew it had to get better at managing their pricing in this highly competitive environment. The trouble was, it lacked the systems and processes required to do this. So it decided to replace its cumbersome homegrown pricing application. PAC 2000A s new system collects daily sales data for 35,000 items from its 450 stores and then combines it with weekly market analyses. It simulates and analyzes different pricing scenarios, taking account of fluctuations in demand and rival retailers prices. This enables the consortium to adjust its own prices accordingly. Using price optimization, PAC 2000A is able to more intelligently manage the overall competitive price index for a category, and optimize pricing and margins within defined rules and constraints. PAC 2000A s objective for its price optimization project was to gain better financial control and improve overall company performance. By leveraging price optimization, comparable stores sales increased by 2.4 percent in 2011 and gross margin improvements were achieved. At the same time, PAC 2000A has reduced the time it takes to react to market changes from 18 days to three. 4 How to become a leader To sum up, the Leaders have merchandising functions that focus on the customer. That doesn t mean they ignore traditional considerations such as products and categories, but they look beyond these concerns to what matters most: the customers who buy their goods. They also form genuine partnerships, not just transactional relationships, with their suppliers. And they use analytics both to guide their decisions and to measure their progress. So what does it take to become a Leader? Focus on your customers Have you appointed a Chief Customer Officer or Customer Council to foster your customer capabilities? Do you have a budget specifically for improving your customer skill? Do you use dedicated metrics to measure your performance against customer-oriented goals? Collaborate across organizational and functional boundaries Do you share data and insights with your suppliers? Do you work closely with your suppliers to develop new products and pricing and promotional strategies? Do you share the task of managing and nurturing the customer relationship with other functions? Turn bytes into insights Do you collect enough data to perform advanced analyses and use the resulting intelligence to inform your merchandising decisions? Do you have the internal expertise to analyze that data? Do you measure the success of your pricing, promotional and assortment activities?

10 10 Understanding leading retailers About the authors Derek Franks is a consultant with the IBM Center for Applied Insights. In this role, his focus is on research that provides insight into emerging business and technology trends. Prior to joining the Center, he was part of the IBM Retail Store Solutions group, where his work centered on how enterprises can use technology to drive improved business results. He has been a speaker at global conferences and collaborated with top companies from around the world. He can be contacted at Elizabeth Magill is the Product Marketing Team Lead for IBM DemandTec solutions, where she heads a team responsible for thought leadership, positioning and sales enablement. Elizabeth has worked for more than 10 years with leading software and service companies in the broad customer experience space, and has domain expertise in digital marketing, call center, eservice and CRM. Before joining DemandTec, she headed product marketing for Coremetrics, where she led a team of marketers supporting solutions in online marketing optimization, including web analytics, search marketing and product recommendation domains. Elizabeth can be reached at or on About the IBM Center for Applied Insights ibm.com/ibmcai The IBM Center for Applied Insights introduces new ways of thinking, working and leading. Through evidence-based research, the Center arms leaders with pragmatic guidance and the case for change. About Planet Retail Planet Retail provides business-critical retail insight to retailers, suppliers and investors. Our intelligence gives businesses competitive advantage by informing their strategic decision making and exposing opportunities for profitable growth. We provide our clients with extensive breadth of data, superior analysis and expertise in grocery, food multinationals, e-commerce, shopper insights, private label, retail technology, macroeconomics, apparel and private label. Contributors Angie Casey Cynthia Coulbourne Ellen Cornillon Scott Duby Ralph Jacobson Steve Rogers Quentin Smelzer Kevin Thompson Patricia Waldron Tony Wood Mark Yourek

11 Notes: 11

12 Notes and sources 1 Google search completed on May 13, We compared the average basket size at the Leaders stores with that of lower-performing retailers. We eliminated the impact of variations in average basket size as a result of operating in different retail segments by using statistical software to weigh the responses of the two groups so that their segment profiles matched. This means that differences between the two groups are not likely to stem from differences in the retail segments they include. 3 We compared the stock prices of the publicly traded Leaders with those of the other publicly traded companies in our sample over periods of one year, two years and three years. The Leaders consistently outperformed the other companies. 4 PAC2000A. IBM Corporation. October 4, com/software/success/cssdb.nsf/cs/jhud-8xcrly?opendocument& Site=default&cty=en_us Copyright IBM Corporation 2013 IBM Corporation New Orchard Road Armonk, NY Produced in the United States of America July 2013 IBM, the IBM logo and ibm.com are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in the United States, other countries or both. If these and other IBM trademarked terms are marked on their first occurrence in this information with a trademark symbol ( or TM), these symbols indicate U.S. registered or common law trademarks owned by IBM at the time this information was published. Such trademarks may also be registered or common law trademarks in other countries. Other product, company or service names may be trademarks or service marks of others. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at Copyright and trademark information at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. The performance data and client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED AS IS WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided. Please Recycle REE03004-USEN-01

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