Merchandising – it’s often seen as one of the least glamorous and most boring functions within the fashion industry but I can tell you first hand, the role is simply misunderstood. There are a few more spreadsheets and numbers than other fashion roles but that is just the beginning. Put simply, if buying is the heart and soul of a retail company, merchandising is the power brain pulling the strings behind the scenes. Intrigued? I’ll share more about my role as a Merchandising Assistant.
What is Merchandising?
Merchandising is a vital role in the fashion industry. Often confused with visual merchandising which is all about the way product is visually displayed, Merchandising is about deciding what products will actually be placed in stores and then managing that product to ultimately drive profit.
Fashion buyers may get to select the styles that you see in-store but merchandisers hold the purse strings. Backed by analysis, merchandisers ensure that the buying or design team selects the right product for the customer and that it’s coming into the business at the right time and price to maximise profits.
So it’s not all numbers and excel?
Well, we do spend a lot of time in Excel. Our role relies heavily on numbers and analysis. We use sales data to find customer shopping trends, analysing preferred shapes, silhouettes, prints and colours. As a merchandising assistant, you may also look at the market as a whole to see where or how our customer is shopping and what kind of prices they’re paying. We then use these insights to determine what products our customer might want to buy next and how we can get her to buy them from us. One major perk of all this data-digging! We decide what’s going into sale and when it does.
However, it’s not all numbers and excel spreadsheets. As a merchandiser, we interact with a lot of the more creative functions within a fashion retail business as well as core operational teams. Merchandising acts as the trusted advisor to the buying and design functions but we often collaborate with marketing and PR teams to highlight new and exciting product for campaigns. We’re always on the phone to suppliers, logistics or warehouse teams to ensure that product is coming into the business and going out to the right stores on time.
Okay, so what do you actually do as a Merchandising Assistant?
As a Merchandising Assistant, my main responsibility is to manage the flow of stock into the business. It’s vital that we have enough stock in stores, to ensure that we’re selling products and meeting our targets. Delays could mean missing sales targets for a specific time period. This often involves a lot of conversations with suppliers to make sure product ships on time or tracking and reporting on any transit delays once a style has shipped. I also manage the stock flow once the style has come into the business, by making sure it’s being distributed out to the right stores. This might involve creating reports to look at where certain styles are selling and making suggestions for stock to be moved between stores.
The best part of my job?
Performing my role as a Merchandising Assistant can be intense at times as the industry is so fast-paced and you’re always on the look-out for the next big thing. However, it certainly does not deserve its boring and frumpy reputation.
As part of the merchandising function, you’re in the metaphorical driving seat of a lot of strategic trading decisions. The best part of it all is that your analysis and decision making really has an impact, which you can easily track through sales figures. Whether it’s reacting quickly to shipping delays and avoiding lost sales or highlighting a specific customer trend and maximising a sales opportunity, your analysis and attention to detail make a difference, which means you’ll always be making a difference.
Words by Martha Ngatchu