THAT time of year is rapidly approaching – the whirlwind that starts the day after Halloween and ramps up over the course of November, pausing with an absolute moment of frenzy on Black Friday, and then generally a straight shot upward to the end of December. It’s almost here – The Holidays.
If you’ve worked in the retail industry for any period of time you know this time of the year all too well. The Holidays are our time to shine and if you eat/breathe/sleep/love retail, it’s likely your favorite time of the year. You’re feeling pretty good going into The Holidays because you’ve prepared. You’ve strategized, purchased, merchandised, prepped, and promoted and now IT is finally here. So what do you do now? You sit back and relax, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and (hopefully) watch the obsessively planned sales execute over the next 9 weeks?
This time of year is the absolute game changer to ensure a successful 2019 for your business and if you aren’t taking advantage you WILL miss out on sales, margin, and growth. The next few weeks are so critical to your business because they are the difference between having another average year, (if you’re lucky), and having a mind blowing year.
So what is it exactly about this time of year that makes it a game changer for your business and that will lead to significant growth?
It’s your Competitive shopping activities and analysis.
(insert eye roll here)
I know what you are thinking, “Okay Sarah – yeah thanks, we’re covered. Our team already does that and it’s helpful but it’s not the game changer that you are saying.”
My reply – “You’re doing it wrong.”
Every major retailer, wholesaler, and brand is bringing their A-game to their holiday presentation. It’s time to take in the ENTIRE marketplace, see what’s working and not working, and then make some big time strategic decisions for your future. And if you and your team aren’t doing this, or doing it wrong, you’re wasting your own time and missing out on the biggest opportunities of next year. I’m going to tell you why and how you’re missing the biggest, most important pieces of competitive shopping that will be a game changer for your business in 2019.
So settle back and enjoy, while I dig in on how to make your holiday competitive shopping the most productive and profitable activity you will do this year – take a moment to relax…because these next 5 minutes will be the last 5 minutes of calm that you and your team will have before the holidays are over.
Your Current State
So first let’s address your current state and what in all likelihood is passing for competitive shopping in your own business right now. After working for major industry players, I know how competitive shopping gets “done” and where the gaps are that are holding your business back.
Scenario #1: A random day in November, your head designer takes the afternoon “go shop the stores and look for newness” and spends the next 5 hours shopping one mall with the major retail players exclusively, reviewing their overall trends, and looking for pretty inspiration. She may buy a few items and show them to you for 5 minutes at the end of your next touch base, highlighting what she wants to do with them for future development.
The Result: Original samples are never seen again and maybe, if you’re lucky, you see the inspired samples as part of a future collection or recommendation for one of your key accounts.
Scenario #2: It’s Black Friday and your entire team is meeting at the local Target Starbucks at 4am to spend the next 8 hours together. You feel great because your designers and merchandisers are all heading out, and armed with a few Triple Grande Frappuccino, they’ll cover a lot of ground checking out a variety of different perspectives. They’ll get through a number of stores but will end up distracted, unfocused, and are frankly exhausted from getting up before dawn. By the time they head home after a day of shopping, enjoy their long weekend, and read the Black Friday reviews on Monday morning – any discoveries, pictures, and ideas are long gone and forgotten.
The Result: A brief power point presentation (kudos to your team IF you get that) with a quick recap of what the team saw and a couple ideas for future development that gets reviewed once and is to never be seen again.
Scenario #3: A frantic Friday in December you realize at lunchtime that YOU haven’t been out to the stores at all. Next week is booked, your holiday team party is next Friday, and the week after is Christmas! So that means today is the day. You ask around to see if any of your team can accompany you on short notice but with end of the year deadlines, there’s no time, so you take the afternoon to power shop. You check out the local mall, (the same place your designer shopped in November), and all you see are broken assortments.
The Result: A feeling of accomplishment (You did it! You went! It counts!) but also feeling uninspired and bored by what you saw, casting it up to crazy shoppers and ridiculous retail promotions.
Every single one of these scenarios have happened to me and each time I got frustrated because if I was going to take the time to dedicate to comp shopping, I wanted it to be done right.
Let’s be real, none of the scenarios above is “doing it right” and comp shopping is almost always an afterthought. You know it’s important and it’s something that you and your team know needs to get down, but rarely does it get the respect it actually deserves. It’s almost never prioritized or scheduled, and is one of the first things to get put on the backburner when another initiative pops up. We do it so we can say “we did it” and check it off the box, but we never actually “did” anything with the information validating the time spent. There are so many people out there “doing it” but I’m telling you, they are doing it all wrong.
Why You Need To Prioritize Comp Shopping
So why do we keep competitive shopping on the “to-do” list when it almost always gets de-prioritized or put on the backburner completely? With our businesses constantly on the go, and being pushed to do more, faster, it’s hard to find the time to get out of the office and it’s easy to keep pushing comp shopping out. As tempting as it may be, we have to remember the many gains that a strategic day of comp shopping will bring our team, products, and business.
Initially most people think about comp shopping as a method to help gauge aspects of your business as compared to others including design, packaging, pricing, trends, etc. Comp shopping is great for that and gives your team the opportunity to examine your business’ own strengths and weaknesses. By building a team dialogue about the day’s discoveries you will quickly notice that you are identifying future opportunities for short term or long-term growth. At that point you can then begin developing strategies and a plan of action that will lead to gained market share, improved sales, and maximized profits.
Comp shopping fosters inspiration for the team. Getting out to the stores is one of the best ways to find inspiration for new design elements and materials, products, or packaging. Many times, keeping your eyes open on other product categories may lead to unexpected inspiration like color combinations or packaging. Giving your team the opportunity to actively seek out inspiration offers significant advantages for your business.
Lastly, as a wholesaler, this type of in-depth market analysis is key for the development of retail partnerships. Retailers expect their vendor partners to provide intel and insights on the current and future marketplace. When meeting with your retail customers after the holidays, you best be prepared to discuss your comp shopping analysis and with market insights for future buys or next year’s holiday. By coming prepared, and showing them you’ve done your homework, with information, strategy, and recommendations you are building credibility with your retail customers that will lead to increased trust and over time, increased sales
A strong merchandising recap will be a fantastic reference for next year’s holidays and when done thoroughly, precisely, and thoughtfully will return your time and team investment many times over in the form of additional sales and revenue.
Are You Sabotaging Your Own Success?
If comp shopping is a huge game changer, and you know that it is, for your business, what are you waiting for? Why aren’t you getting out there TODAY??
I’ve heard all the excuses before, (and probably even tried to use of few of them), so allow me to tackle the most common ones out there and argue the case to stop with the excuses and just get it done.
“We are too busy and don’t have the time.”
There is always so much going on that it can be impossible to be able to find the time that you and your team need to make comp shopping the priority that it should be but it is an absolute MUST. By doing so you are level setting your own brand and company against competitors, analyzing the overall marketplace to position yourself for market growth, and inspiring your team to develop exciting products that will lead to sales growth.
“Every store always looks the same.”
Yes, you are correct. If you are shopping at the same stores across the same tier everything will look the same. Challenge yourself and your team to get out and look at the same stores that you always do but also to look at high end, mass, off price, direct to consumer, and trending start up brands. Once you start looking across the board, you’ll start to see that not everything does look the same and where the similarities lie across each of these segmented markets is going to lead to more intel than you first though.
“We have a trend service to serve us up the ‘must haves’ and inspiration we need.”
This is a BIG one and I’m shocked when I hear businesses relying on trend services to replace their own comp shopping and drive sales. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking trend services. They definitely have a reason for existence but how many times have you sat through a trend presentation and find yourself saying, “pretty but who the hell is actually going to buy this at mass?”. When we talk about comp shopping we aren’t just talking finding the pretty trends – we are talking about understanding the marketplace and developing forward thinking strategies to position your business for outstanding success.
“My team isn’t coming back with the level of information and insights that I wanted.”
So are you setting your team up for success on this one? Have you expressed the expectations and goals for what you hope they achieve when they are out comp shopping? Do YOU know what that looks like? Are they able to deliver this level of information? It takes a trained eye with experience to find the gaps and opportunities in assortments. We all bring our own individual skill sets and depending on your team members, you may not have the right role or team members to be able to lead this type of analysis.
How To Comp Shopping (The Right Way)
I will be the first to admit, comp shopping is the biggest waste of time for you and your team if it isn’t being done with structure, process, initiative, and follow up.
Tackling different stores with an aligned process, thoughtfully identifying each competitor’s strategy, and then having a real time discussion, when its still fresh in your mind, that deep dives into big picture and actualizes future initiatives, will result in the real sales development and business growth that you want.
So let’s just lay down the law on what the bare minimum needs to be for you and your team and what you need to do before, during, and after your comp shopping trips to make sure it is the most beneficial and successful as possible.
Meet with your head designer and/or lead merchandiser to discuss expectatio including any specific stores, brands, or key metrics that you want to make sure are being covered. Be sure to include post-shopping expectations, like timing for discussion and recaps, to make sure the time is well spent.
Plan your days and be strategic about what stores you want to see and when you want to go see them. You know the department store set ups will likely be pretty busted up after Black Friday, so make sure you get to them before versus specialty brands that don’t have the huge programs and Black Friday promotions and can likely remain fairly intact going into December.
Determine exactly who should be going on these trips and make sure that each person is value-added. If they aren’t, - cut ‘em from the trip. They will be a distraction that your team doesn’t need.
Make sure everybody is on the same page for the trip. Assign your head designer or lead merchandiser to outline your team discussion and share with the greater team. Be sure to include expectations and the key metrics that you want to make sure are being covered.
Get your trips and follow discussions scheduled and on everyone’s calendar, including yours. The Holidays only come around once a year so these should be of the highest priority to you and your team.
When possible, it’s better to break up comp shopping into two increments instead of the whole day. The whole day can be exhausting and most people start to lose their motivation after lunchtime. It may be best to call it a day when that happens and schedule a second block of time another day.
If possible, divide and conquer the stores before lunch. I recommend a designer/merchandiser partnership, but with varying degrees of expertise so your team is challenging each other and maximizing your time spent.
Take notes immediately after walking out of EVERY SINGLE STORE. This makes a huge difference. You’d be shocked at how much information you absorb but then quickly forget. By taking 5 minutes after each store and comparing notes you will make significant progress on identifying trends and start to see the overlapping stories. Use your notes app on your phone to keep it really easy.
Take pictures. If you struggle to keep your images organized, take a picture of the store name before you walk in to signify what store you are in and the on to the next one. This will keep your images organized and easy to file.
Meet up for lunch and start to the discussion. Start making notes on key trends and findings and if anything is truly outstanding, go back as a team to check it out so everyone is one the same page.
Ask team members to upload their images and share any notes as soon as possible in defined folders for saving. My recommendation would be to organize images by the date and then the store name, but you can do what works best for you and your team.
As soon as possible, get the team together and start rehashing what was discovered. Go through store-by-store, image-by-image, and share it with your team. It may seem obvious to you, but it will trigger ideas from other members of the team.
Keep the conversation focused. It isn’t about what was the prettiest or “who looked the best”, it’s about who and what was performing, what were the overall big ideas and trends that customer’s were reacting to, and most importantly – where are the whitespace opportunities and how does that translate to your business and your products today and in the future.
Comp shopping - done right - will guide your team past just basic analysis on your competitors and their product line, and inspiration for a few new pretty styles in your line. The goal of effective comp shopping is about identifying and developing strategies for your brand and business. These are the strategies that will clarify whitespace and create the game changing opportunities that will set your brand apart from the rest.
Are you realizing your team may need competitive shopping support or want an expert’s outside perspective in identifying strategic opportunities and delivering future growth in sales, margin, and market share? Mod. Merchant can help with our Whitespace Breakdown for your business, niche, and product line. Click HERE to learn more.