Retail Execution

3 Retailer Red Flags and How to Fix Them

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In today’s rapidly evolving retail landscape, brands are often left to their own devices to navigate the turbulent and obscure waters of unified commerce. And while it’s true that the channels, strategy and tactics for gaining omnichannel visibility are changing at a rapid pace, monitoring all of your SKUs across countless websites and brick and mortar stores can be daunting at best.

Some retailers like Amazon and Walmart have even made moves to limit the amount of vendors and third parties they’ll allow in their stores on a brand’s behalf. As such, building a strong relationship with your retailers is key to ensuring your partners are upholding your guidelines, but what about when that breaks down, communication fails, partners get busy or other third parties aren’t able to provide you with the needed visibility to stay on top of your business? The first step is recognizing sooner rather than later that there may be a problem.  

Here are 3 warning signs that should trigger your manufacturer spidey senses. 

1. Sales data doesn’t align with projections.

I speak to dozens of brands every week who are looking for causal data to explain the anomaly they’re seeing in their sales data. They know their product is available in stores, and all qualitative studies show that it should be received well by the customer, but sales data doesn’t align with their expected outcome. “What’s going on here?,” asked one consumer electronics client after a recent product launch. “I know we’re in the stores…and should be on the shelf, but sales are actually down.” Sometimes, all it takes is aligning data from actual in-store conditions with sales data to gain a clear picture into why things are not going as expected at the retail level.

This is an image of a person writing in a notebook about data and graphs on a sheet of paper.

2. Communication is vague or infrequent. 

Retailers are busy and—truth be told—they don’t have time to respond to every manufacturer’s request with a comprehensive analysis meant to answer every possible question. If they’re too busy to respond to your initial requests, just keep at it. They will respond eventually. On the other hand, when something has gone terribly wrong on the execution side of things, it’s sometimes easier for retailers not to address it in an effort to buy time to correct the issue.  

A few months back, we had a client who said that a major home center chain hadn’t responded to any of their requests on inline display functionality, over a period of several weeks. They needed to know what was going on with their displays and why they hadn’t received an update, after multiple requests. Rather than continue to bang their head against a wall, we sent our crowdsourced shoppers into more than 1,000 locations over the course of 8 days and found the issue. The associates didn’t know how to troubleshoot some of the display functionality and were waiting for a merchandising team to make their rounds so that the retailer could report them fixed. By showing our client exactly where the issues were, we were able to better guide their merchandisers to where the problems actually existed and within days the problems were addressed. This helped our client get their in-store sales back on track and saved them countless hours of worry and frustration.

3. You’ve got a gut feeling that something is amiss. 

Data is obviously always king, but I’ve always said that second to data is a very keen ability to act on your gut feelings. If you have a bad feeling about the communication cadence, data or updates you’re receiving from your retailers, make sure to address any potential issues before they impact sales.  

A woman checking her email on a Apple computer, looking frustrated.

Many of my brand clients have been in the business long enough to know when something is awry. One client recently said that the data they had been receiving from a big box retailer “just didn’t feel like it was telling the whole pricing story.” There was nothing specifically “wrong” in the data, but rather, it looked too familiar and repetitive.  

After sending our users on a Mission aimed at capturing standard and promotional pricing, the client learned that there was significant pricing variation (including MAP violations) occurring within channels and by region, sometimes with no obvious rhyme or reason behind it. Within days, the client was able to see the data and react with phone calls to each store, as well as their regional contacts to rectify the situation. 

How to Fix Issues Before They Impact Your Business 

Get feet on the street.

You can’t always rely on retailers to be your beacons of good will, no matter how healthy your relationships are with them. The fact of the matter is that it’s up to brands and manufacturers to stay on top of their own business. When possible, get boots on the ground to collect data for you. State your objectives before your launch your Mission and determine what you need answered. Get specific store data to check that your displays and prices are up to standard. Wiser’s crowdsourced data platform is a great way to use a national network of smartphone wielding shoppers to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the aisle. That way, you can identify small problems before they have a chance to disrupt your retail execution.  An image of stores in a mall during the holidays.

Have a plan. 

Getting in-store data is only as useful as your ability to act on it. Having a plan for what to do when, not if, things go south (a retail triage, if you will) is going to be one of the most effective tools your team can use to ensure sales and revenue aren’t lost. Many of my clients use Wiser’s real-time alerts to have only the most pressing issues sent to their teams, both internally and externally. By intelligently routing issue alerts as they happen, brands can empower their teams to act on very recent data at the store level. 

Final Thoughts 

Your retailers are the life of your business, but failing communication and incorrect data can put a damper on the relationship. Get actionable in-store insights you need with the help of the crowd.

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Better decisions can only come from better data.

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