StyleData Blog

StyleData Blog covers broad topics of interest to Merchandising and Marketing Professionals, Fashionistas, Analysts and Number Crunchers.

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What is Retail Merchandising?

Retail merchandising is an art and a science, a right brain/left brain pursuit, that's both analytical and creative.  As a Retail Merchandising Consultant, my ultimate assignment is to maximize gross margin dollars for my clients.   How? By finding great products that will sell, developed in partnership with the right suppliers, who can deliver consistent quality on time and at a fair cost...  a cost that will allow me to sell at a price that is both attractive to the customer and profitable for my client, the retailer. 

At StyleData, my clients tend to sell fashion products that are marketed most often to women, so color and design are important considerations.  One day I may labor over a fabric line for the upcoming season, the next, I may be using pivot tables and vlookups in Excel to combine data from multiple sources to learn what worked and what didn't from the last product launch.  The line constantly evolves through trial and error to become ever better.  I have worked with retailers who sell online, in catalogs, and in stores, with many that sell in all of these channels.  

I love my job because no two days are the same, and I work on teams across the organizations I serve with talented professionals in marketing, sales, finance, information technology, customer service and supply chain.

What training and natural talent does one need to succeed in Merchandising?  Here's my take:

1)  Stay on top of fashion trends for your products specifically, and also for analogous products.  For what I do, I review apparel, home fashions and interior design publications and websites, targeted to both the consumer and the industry, plus I get out and shop.  There is a rhythm to how trends evolve and what influences them.

2) Nurture your creativity and learn the "rules" of good design...  you need to know the rules before you can break them!  Have a creative hobby in addition to what you do for work, where you can push your creative limits with no negative reprocussions.

3) Develop a genuine interest in getting to know your consumer (chances are, you are not your target customer); over time, you will develop intuition about what she will respond to.  Make product choices not as a consumer, but what you know is right as a merchant.

4) Experiment, but analyze. Become an advanced Excel user, and embrace algebra, the basis of "retail math".  As a merchant, you will find a need for both, and I am disappointed in the lack of training in this area many marketing and merchandising graduates are equipped with.  If you think Excel can do it, it can, but the tools in Excel to help you figure out how are seriously lacking.  I recommend Ted French's website to get started, and making friends with your colleagues in IT, finance and engineering.


5 Great Award-Winning Innovations from KBIS

See my report on the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show 2013 on the Blog.


Blu Homes Tour in Joshua Tree, CA

Read my blog posting about the Blu Homes Tour on The Finishing Touch Blog, by


35 Design Finds in Hong Kong

A couple of weeks ago, on the way to mainland China, I had the opportunity to walk the streets of Hong Kong for 9 hours.  Read my report on the Blog.


Seven Sensational Secrets for Online Success from 2012

Jamie Nordstrom, one of the Keynote Speakers at 2012, addresses the 4000 conference delegates at The Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

E-commerce, which encompasses m-commerce (transactions conducted on mobile phones and tablets) in addition to “traditional” online shopping done from a personal computer, is the fastest growing, and most dynamic segment of the retail industry.  

The Annual Summit, sponsored by the National Retail Federation (NRF), is one of the premier events that caters to online retailers, with 3 days packed with great learning and networking opportunities.  The agenda includes industry-leading speakers from major retailers, technology providers, and research institutions. The Expo Hall features suppliers that are allied to the industry and expert volunteers who will critique attendees’ websites.  

Daniel Cotler, Abraham Israel and John Suh of, Karin Jeske of StyleData, and Stephanie Pertuit,

There was a constant buzz in the air;  I believe it is the excitement of knowing that we all work in a growing, ever-changing space that offers seemingly unlimited opportunity.  Matthew Shay, President and CEO of the NRF referred to the "adaptive spirit" and "resilience" of online retailers.

I attended 2012 on behalf of StyleData's largest client,, a top 200 internet retailer (and #1 in their category), along with four other team members, Daniel CotlerStephanie PertuitAbraham Israel, and John Suh. Here are my top 7 take-aways:

#1 Master Omnichannel

"Omnichannel" refers to creating a seamless, brand-consistent experience for your customer, whether they are shopping in your store, surfing your website (on any device), reading your blog, paging through your catalog, talking to or chatting online with your call center agent, opening your email, landing on your Facebook, YouTube or Pinterest page, reading your tweets, or using your app.  This is a concept that has been talked about for years, but the challenge has become greater as the channels of communication have proliferated, and the expectation of the customer that they can interact however and whenever they want with your brand has increased.

Screen shots of interactive iPad apps from Neiman Marcus.Georgia Christensen of Neiman Marcus, in her presentation, “The Business of Retail is an Art,” described her experience of interacting with many of these channels when purchasing a sofa from Restoration Hardware, and her feeling that they provided a brand-consistent experience throughout the process.  Ms. Christensen and her team have recently re-vamped “The Book”, a famous Neiman Marcus publication that she pioneered 15 years ago.  This has always been an expensive piece, mailed to their best customers and hottest prospects.  Now it is also available as one of Neiman Marcus' interactive tablet apps, with include click-to-buy, video, editorial and imagery that is world class - and a new channel for reaching their current customers, and expanding their base.

Jamie Nordstrom talked about the challenges to provide an exceptional Omnichannel experience at the iconic retail company that his family founded in 1902, in his talk entitled “Evolving the Customer Experience”.   Nordstrom launched their first catalog in 1994, and the same team launched in 1998, but they operated separately from the store.  In 2005, they determined that having separate merchandise in the store and online, although easier for Corporate to manage, did not provide the ideal customer experience, and undertook the initiative of “multichannel integration”, a strategy that they continue to perfect.  Most recently, all of their store associates have been given tablets to interact with the website, and sometimes accept payment.  Soon there will be no cash registers (which he described as "8 year old dinosaurs") in Nordstrom at all!

David Walmsley of Marks & Spencer described their integration as "weaving digital through the fabric of the business." His Omnichannel strategies need to be translated into different languages and comply with the laws of the 44 countries they have a physical presence in and the 83 countries they ship to.

Nearly everyone has seen growth in the mobile channel, with many interactions, such as email, taking place on the phone.  And tablets (which have an estimated 20% adoption rate), most often account for more actual sales transactions.  John Seebeck of Crate & Barrel  talked about the need to resist "cramming everything on your website on to a phone" and the importance of carefully editing the content, thinking through customer expectations, and refining the experience on each device.

#2 Use Technology to Create a Superior Experience

Screen shot of mobile app for the 2012 conference in Denver.The easy-to-use mobile app developed for attendees of was a great example of technology improving a customer experience in a meaningful way.

It contained all of the program events, with descriptions of all of the sessions, and biographies of the speakers - and it was much easier to navigate than a paper directory.  This made it easy for conference attendees to plan their schedules in advance, and then to rate each of the programs.

It allowed everyone to see in real time what was happening at any given moment, and this was very useful, since 10 different learning opportunities could be happening at once!

This app also provided useful links to information about Denver, the Twitter feed, the shuttle schedule, maps and

It was also downright gorgeous - fun and colorful - more so than it needed to be to make the experience better (this reminded me of a quote that I liked from that Georgia Christensen attributed to Faith Popcorn: "When Price and Function are Equal, Form Prevails"). Kudos to the developers of the mobile app!

As a product merchandising professional, I lit up when Michael ZeisserSVP at Liberty Media made the statement that "Product is King," but what he quickly clarified that the "product" is the technology, not the actual "thing" the customer is buying.  He advised that companies should "engineer around proprietary user insights."

Visualization technology was a hot topic, and many interesting solutions were presented by suppliers in the Expo Hall.  John Seebeck announced that Crate & Barrel will be launching a breakthrough visualization tool in early October. introduced the widely acclaimed Window Shopper App that allows users take a photo of any window on their iPhone or Android device, and "try on" different window treatments in 2011.

Another theme was how technology can drive better personalization. "Giving personalized, relevant recommendations builds loyalty that goes beyond miles, points, discounts and coupons," said Jamie Norstrom.  The now-familiar term "big data" was mentioned in this context, and many others.

Stephan Spencer, author of "Google Power Search" updated the crowd on the latest in search engine optimization, with tips and tools on analysing and improving organic search results.  He recommended the free tools at Ahrefs, SEM Rush and Search Metrics in addition to Google Analytics as a place for retailers to get started.

 #3 Win with Logistics, the "Front Line of the Battleground"

The above is a quote from Michael Walmsley, but this was a primary theme in the presentation by Jerry Storch of Toys R Us, as well.  In particular, with the growing expectation on the part of the consumer that free freight is a given, and some retailers are figuring out how to deliver next day or even same day, it is essential that online retailers to find the most efficient way to deliver goods to the customer, reliably, quickly and at the lowest possible cost. Mr. Storch presented the case that "big box" retailers have an advantage in the world of online logistics with their ability to fulfill orders in store. 

This week, it was announced that Amazon will begin charging sales tax in California in order to establish distribution centers there, in an effort to provide faster deliveries to residents of America's largest state! 

he 2012 Evening Reception and Dinner at the Denver Center for Performing Arts.

#4 "There are No Turnaround Stories on the Internet"

Wow! This is a quote from Michael Zeisser,  accompanied by a slide adorned with logos of many a high-flier that has fizzled, and he challenged the audience to give him a counter example;  none were provided.  Sucharita Mulpuru, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research referred to this phenomenon as "Mistaking rapid adoption for proof of durability."  

David Walmsly's comment along this theme was that "in the online world, being right can be a very temporary feeling."

# 5 Nordstrom's Policy & Procedure Manual is Pretty Simple:  "Use Good Judgment"

With their relentless pursuit of improving customer service, Nordstrom pushes decision making to the people who interact with the client; they trust their team members at all levels to make decisions that will be best for the customer and the Company.  This, claims Jamie Nordstrom, creates a great environment for innovation. 

#6 Take Advantage of the Amazing Talent Surrounding You

Here is an example of the wonderful resources available at  Sue Chapman of Demandware was one of the dozen or so professionals who graciously volunteered their time to provide one-on-one critiques of attendee websites.  Stephanie Pertuit, the Online Marketing Manager for set up a 20 minute critique with her, and she, John Suh and I watched as Sue played surfed our website both as a customer and as an online shopping professional.  We all had a page of notes by the time we were finished.  Sue made some great observations on what was working perfectly, and some valuable insights of what could be improved on. 

Click here to see a video of the Expo Hall on opening night.  Interacting with the hundreds of exhibitors, who all offer unique solutions to help online retailers grow and succeed, provides an important part of the experience.  

#7 Give Your Online Team "Carte Blanche" to "Try Anything"

Part of the culture at Nordstrom is to constantly try new ideas, and to "celebrate the things that didn't work".  Jamie Nordstrom also mentioned that many of the great ideas that they have implemented have come from their customers.

"Experiment Without Fear" is my favorite of the long-standing core values at  This sentiment is constantly emphasized to the team by their Founder and CEO, Jay Steinfeld. Innovation thrives in their culture, and it is surely one of the key drivers of their amazing success.

The Summit 2012 was a wonderful event to attend.  See you next year in Chicago!

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