Forrest Gump famously said “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”  And while surprises may be delightful when it comes to sweets, planning for the right assortment of merchandise will make you a better retailer.

The success of your store depends on having what customers expect, and what customers want.  Knowing your market will help you predict what that might be, but you need to be open to feedback in order to evaluate how well you are doing.  Shoppers will respond with comments and questions, and of course they vote for or against  products with their dollars.  It’s a simple maxim that you need to invest more money and shelf space in what is selling best.

When I give talks to retailers, I often start by asking them to write a ten word description of their store. This forms the basis for choices about merchandise that will fit within that vision.  Having a cohesive concept makes for a more visually pleasing store, and one that consumers find enjoyable to shop.  You should make sure to carry certain “bread and butter” items that customers would logically expect you to have. 

In addition to these stock items, you want to have merchandise that other stores in your area don’t carry.  There has to be a reason for shoppers to make a trip to your store, and the serendipity of finding something unique or rare is a great source of customer satisfaction.  

Another factor in selecting your assortment of merchandise is price point.  Department stores traditionally offered “good, better and best” in every category.  And while you don’t have to strictly follow this dictum, it’s not a bad idea to appeal to shoppers who want (or are able) to spend differing amounts on the same item.  We often find that carrying a more expensive item, i.e. something in the “best” category, will help a customer feel good about buying a similar item that is either good or better. Having something to compare them to is helpful in the decision-making process.

Deciding on the quantity of merchandise to bring in is a challenging part of planning your assortment. Work with sales reps to order a good array of the best sellers in a line, starting broad and shallow (i.e. without too much back stock) until you see how the merchandise fares in your store.

Large chains spend a great deal of time and money coming up with the ideal assortment plan for every store, but for independent retailers it’s always a work in progress.  We need to constantly monitor what our customers want, and plan accordingly.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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