“Within the last three years, retailers had to adapt to the most volatile circumstances of the last 30 years, dealing with pandemics, war, inflation, and energy crisis.” – Retail Trends 2023
These past three years have turned the retail merchant’s world upside down with supply chain issues. At the beginning of the pandemic, sourcing was difficult, at best, due to the fast change in consumer spending and the pivot to different product categories.
Once the goods were sourced, the next challenge was getting them manufactured since many factories were closed. Even if they were produced, there was another obstacle in the way: containers stuck in ports, adding to the delays in getting the goods into the country. In the midst of all this chaos, shipping costs skyrocketed. Unlike an earthquake or a tsunami affecting one small part of the supply chain, this was a perfect storm roiling across the entire global supply chain.
Things gradually calmed down, but we barely had time to exhale before more clouds started building on the horizon. Consumer habits changed again, which impacted buying patterns and needs and resulted in reduced online spending. Categories suffered while just-in-case inventories left retailers overstocked with goods and scrambling to unload them through deep discounting.
Buyers and category managers have been playing catch up ever since, reacting tactically to these rapid swerves in both the external environment and consumer behaviors. Strategic planning and forecasting have taken a back seat. It’s a reminder of how hard it is to be strategic in retail — and how much more important it is going forward.
All of this has me thinking about what we need to do as we kick off another year of uncertainty with, hopefully, some leveling out. How do we navigate this frenzied environment? While many retail leaders I’ve spoken with are expressing cautious optimism about the economy, the reality is, the new normal is ever-changing. As retailers, we have to be nimble and flexible to change, yet we can’t remain in permanent reactive mode.
I’ve decided to declare this the Year of the Retail Merchant, because they haven’t had the opportunity to sharpen their skills in a very long time. After all, with the breakneck pace of change, massive shifts can happen in just a few months. Category managers and retail buyers are overdue for some creative and strategic time to do their best work and experience career best moments.
What does that look like? Read on for some ideas on how to get your merchants back in the driver’s seat this year.