One of the biggest investments that the marketing organization of a Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) company can make is in its field merchandising team. These teams are responsible for putting hands on product in retail, making sure that the product is positioned in the way that makes it most appealing to the consumer. The primary function of a Retail Merchandiser is to perform in-store audits, both standard Retail Audits (also known in the industry as Follow-Ups), and Trade Compliance Audits or Checks. These are the things you should know when field reps are performing their audits:
Retail Audits are used to make sure that products are displayed on the shelf to ensure that customers can find the product, and when they do find it, to make sure that it appears in the most appealing way possible. Retail Audits are typically performed on a periodic basis to make sure that the product is consistently available and managed well on the retail shelf.
Compliance Audits are performed to coincide with special promotions that a manufacturer negotiates with retailers from time to time. These audits are performed to ensure that the product is being promoted as agreed, both in how it is displayed in the store, and how it is priced.
The keys to getting the most value from in-store audits are:
Regularity: Merchandisers should visit stores on a regular basis to make sure that the product is consistently displayed to maximize sales. Any deficiencies found should always be brought to the attention of the category or store manager both to make sure that store personnel are aware and can make corrections when the merchandiser is not there, and to send the message that the manufacturer cares deeply about quality!
Consistency of Data Collection: If merchandisers are visiting retail outlets on a regular basis, the data that they collect on those visits should also remain consistent over time. In order to detect and analyze trends that can highlight issues throughout the retail supply chain, the data needs to be collected in such a way as to enable easy reporting. If in-store surveys and audit questions are constantly changed, it would become impossible to create reports that identify time-trend based issues. Best practice for keeping audits consistent is to use a structured data collection tool, and ideally one that includes or feeds a reporting system.
Stock level reporting: There are several types of stock in a typical retail store. There is 'on-shelf stock', which should always be full, ‘near-shelf stock', sometimes in risers above the shelf, sometimes in bins below or behind shelving. This stock is used for quick replenishment of the shelf. The final stock location is the ‘back room stock'. An excellent retail audit includes checking all locations of stock to make sure that issues that may cause out-of-stock (OOS, also known as ‘stock-outs’) are identified early. OOS causes major issues for distributors and retailers alike, and can result in a loss of up to of $75,000. It is vital to keep an eye on the availability of your products in order to prevent OOS, and audits can help you collect data to better predict and prevent OOS. Best practice for reporting stock is to report against pre-set ‘High, Medium, Low’ levels rather than taking time to get exact counts.
Planogram Compliance checks: Emanuele Frontoni, Adriano Mancini and Primo Zingaretti have done extensive research on planogram maintenance and the importance of planogram compliance which has informed a lot of the research that has been done into automating the process, however most CPG manufacturers still rely on physical inspections dome by merchandisers in the store. These compliance checks make sure that all of the negotiated shelf space has been allocated, and that the product is sequenced as per the planogram design, with the correct product order, on the correct shelf with the appropriate number of slots. Planogram compliance can have a dramatic impact on sales of a product; studies have shown that a doubling of facings leads to a 20% increase in sales. Best practice when it comes to planogram compliance is to separate the out of stock reporting from the actual planogram compliance reporting as the results of these inspections inform very different business issues, either one of supply chain in the case of stock-outs, or poor in-store shelf management in the case of compliance issues.
Product Condition Optimization: Merchandisers should be tasked with making sure that the product appears as fresh as possible (see Repsly’s post on The 3 F’s of Retail Execution ). Any damaged product, or shop-worn packaging, no matter how slight, should be removed and replaced. The shelving itself, and anything that the merchandiser can affect around the shelving should be clean and fully serviceable. Any issues should be brought to store management’s attention. It is impossible to overstate how important it is that the product and its presentation always reinforce a commitment to quality.
Competitive Activity Reports: Retail merchandisers are the eyes and ears of a CPG organization. While out managing the company’s products on the shelf, these foot soldiers can also perform valuable reconnaissance about competitors, including how they price their product, what promotions they are running, where they are having success with market penetration. Best practices for using merchandisers to report competitive activity include having a ‘watch list’ for specific brands or products that merchandisers should be on the lookout for, providing structured ‘spot reports’ that encapsulate the key bits of information that marketing is interested in about competitors, and allowing field merchandisers to provide open and unstructured feedback about what they perceive the competition to be doing in the market.
With these points in mind, you can ensure that you are maximizing the benefits of your merchandising audits and providing your business with the keys to success.