Strategizing your year-round merchandising vibrancy

Mar 01, 2011 10:30 PM  By

After the season ends, you and your team slice and dice all the sales reports to get a deeper understanding of which products worked and which did not.

And, hopefully, you wrestle with the “why” conversation and what’s underneath those reports and spreadsheets. That is, Why did the customers respond to this product or color or price point and not that one? Why was this item a surprise seller? Why didn’t we anticipate this dog?

These fierce conversations about why certain products/categories are working or not help uncover real and actionable merchandising revelations. Brand leaders need to have these face-to-face discussions because they are the basis for a growth-oriented, sustainable, vibrant merchandising strategy independent of the latest season’s trends.

While every brand has its own unique product fit chart, here are a few things to consider as you strategize your year-round merchandising offering.

— Valiant —

How strong are the statements your products make about your brand?

When it comes to brand, how full-bodied is your merchandising offer? How many of your products contribute directly to your brand mission?

Take an inventory of your key categories and items and discuss how important each one is to your overall positioning. Sometimes brands drift into product choices that are best left to competitors. Or there is an untapped opportunity to connect the product more closely to the brand.

For instance, Performance Bicycle offered a product during Christmas that was not just a valiant item in reinforcing its brand positioning, but also relevant to its customers’ needs. The merchant’s Kids Bike in a Box was cleverly marketed with this online product copy and a short and humorous YouTube video:

Look Dad, no parts! No tools, no waiting, no worries. Just open the box and ride. Imagine, a brand new bike delivered to your door, professionally assembled, quality tested and ready-to-ride by our Spin Doctor Techs. Convenience and value delivered to your door with our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee and Low Price Promise.

— Inspirational —

Does your product offering connect with your customers in an emotionally engaging way?

Great merchants know that every product has the potential to connect with a customer in some emotional way. And you don’t need a sexy product line for your brand to make those emotional connections.

Take men’s grooming supplies, for instance. Shaving cream and blades are not the sexiest of products to sell, but The Art of Shaving has made them so.

In fact, the entrepreneurial owners’ stated philosophy is to “bring art and passion to a daily routine.” They encourage potential customers to join “the brotherhood of shaving” and merchandise the company’s four exclusive products as items necessary for “The Perfect Shave.”

— Befriend —

Does your merchandise provoke passionate aficionados?

Speaking of a brotherhood, do you have a band of customers who rave about your products? Befriending goes both ways, and brands that create products their customers can’t live without also create brand cheerleaders.

Can you name the products you offer that have this status with your customers? If you can’t either identify them or don’t know of any, it’s time do some serious homework.

Look at UGG, the Australian boot company that’s been the rage here for years. Here’s how UGG befriends its customers with its merchandise:

Only the finest materials are used in the construction of our products — the highest quality leathers and suedes, and of course, the world’s finest sheepskin…

UGG partnered with retailer Nordstrom to launch a print and online campaign called “It Starts with U,” which enabled its customers to show their UGG love right back.

— Reveal —

Do your merchandising selections reveal your brand’s intimate understanding of your customers?

Talbots kicked off its holiday catalog with this message in an insert:

It really is all about you. You’re the reason we wake up every morning. Literally. Ways to make your shopping experience easier, less stressful, much more enjoyable are always in our thoughts. Constantly on our minds…Our world revolves around you (and we wouldn’t have it any other way!)

The insert also showcases on-trend metallic trenches, “can’t get enough” ruffled cardigans and cashmere sweaters with the subhead: “The turtleneck you want, need crave for your closet.”

Is your brand personally relevant to your customers? How are you communicating that message in clever and attention-getting ways?

— Amaze —

What is WOW! about your products?

Again, you may think that the “wow” factor is reserved for glitzy over-the-top lifestyle products. But the real power of wow happens everywhere and with everyday products.

Multichannel marketer Duluth Trading, for instance, makes your basic workwear tantalizing. Check out the company’s “seriously usable stuff” for “hands-on” men and women.

Duluth takes pride in creating products with and for its customers and has trademarked several innovative products: The LongTail T (positioned as the cure for plumber’s butt); Fire Hose Workwear (made with real fire hose material) and Buck Naked Underwear (“so comfortable, they’re like wearing nothing at all!”).

Take a look a your line — are there some everyday products that could use a bit of wow?

— Nudge —

Do your products provoke continual brand interactions?

Many brands can get customers to try their merchandise once, but the secret to a sustainable brand is happy repeat customers. Merchants play a key role in making and offering products that customers keep coming back for.

J. Crew’s “Give Sparkle” holiday merchandising campaign borrows brilliantly from the concept of “fruit of the month clubs.” J. Crew applied this idea to its jewelry category: “A year’s worth of statement jewels. Give 1. Give 12. Spoil Her.”

With this program, J. Crew fans have a monthly experience with the brand that is likely to cause additional purchases. What ideas can you borrow to nudge your customers in creative and attention-getting ways?

— Trust —

How much confidence do your customers have in your products?

Do your customers trust you? Do your products deliver what you promise? Each product experience can either build or diminish trust with your customers. How do you message and measure this important communication?

Eddie Bauer has stiff competition in the outdoor apparel market, but enthusiasts trust this brand because of its continual product innovation, its passionate customer connection and its reliance on mountaineering experts to cocreate gear with their merchants.

Here’s how the company describes its First Ascent line: “World-class expedition gear created by Eddie Bauer with some of the best mountain guides in the world. Simple. Functional. Light. Durable. Everything you need. Nothing you don’t.” Customers can count on the integrity of Eddie Bauer products.

How do your products add integrity to your brand? Vibrant merchandising is none other than a full-time, full-intensity job. Is your brand up to the challenge?

Andrea Syverson ( is president of the consultancy IER Partners, and author of BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Playbook for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants.