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.