I have some bad news. We aren’t going back to the way things used to be. Travel, shopping, dining out will be forever impacted by this pandemic. And, if you are anything like me, you hate change. But change is the only constant we will be seeing over the next 6-12 months, so the least I can do is offer some insights into what Buyer/Suppliers might experience in the Retail landscape with such new tools and methods including wholesale apps, digital catalogs and supplier management systems.
Like it or not, you have been trapped in a time capsule. When your stores reopen, it will look and feel like March 15th 2020, when in reality, it will be several months later. The Denim Jeans and ¾ Sleeve shirts will feel as out of place as Marty McFly in Back to the Future. What you need right now is Crops, Shorts, Tanks and Tee’s but, depending on your Suppliers, there may be none to be found. Oh, and you still need to clear through all those lightweight sweaters, Long Sleeve Tops, and leftover Coats! So, what’s a girl (or guy) to do?
- Buy Less going forward. Why? You are sitting with hundreds or even thousands of store’s worth of inventory. Step one is crafting a plan on how to liquidate or consolidate that inventory. Remember, every State decides how and when to reopen their economy. Meaning, don’t expect all stores to open at once. There will be a slow, phased approach, which will make your future needs lower for the next 6-9 months.
- Shop from your closet. Most Specialty Retailers change their Floorset every 4-6 weeks, meaning, you probably have product in your pipeline (whether it is in the Distribution Center or still overseas) that has never seen the light of day. Or, if it did, it was only on your website with limited exposure. Can some of this 2020 product be repurposed for 2021? Example, would be a 2020 Spring II set that can be used for 2021 Spring II with 80%+ still viable and you really only need a few key fashion pieces to refresh the concept?
- Throw LY (Last Year) out the window and TY (This Year) out with the trash. Your data is almost useless. Trying to cover LY will be impossible as Stores will open gradually, and unpredictably. TY data is dangerous especially for your website. When did your website NEVER have to compete with your stores? In fact, when did the website NEVER have to compete with ANY STORE, ANYWHERE? The Demand curve is completely skewed and only very high level assumptions can be made. (Example: A best seller was still a best seller, but you need to work with your analytics team to translate that into what it could mean for units going forward)
- Partner with your Suppliers. You have probably heard, we are all in this together. Buyers who have great collaborative relationships with their Supplies will win the race to recovery. Better yet, those that have mastered working “virtually” with their Suppliers using Supplier Management Systems and Interactive Tools will be able to work smarter, while the rest of the retail world works harder.
Remember those days of crisscrossing the country, perhaps the world, with refrigerator sized suitcases full of your best samples? Remember when you would spend an entire day in a conference room with Buyers hammering out an assortment? Well, those days are most likely gone, unless of course, your Travel budget has increased and you love wearing an N95 Mask for 8-10 hours! The reality is most of your interaction will now take place via Zoom or Google Hangouts, your suitcase will be 4K photos of your product, and your negotiations will take place via Apps or Email. But, there are some critical things your can do to improve your odds of navigating the nastiness of this pandemic.
- Make a Digital Catalog a priority. Make it simple, with the critical info needed, and most importantly, make is user friendly for your team and your customers. Surefront offers a great solution which has helped hundreds of buyers easily create a Digital Catalog using their Wholesale App. Check it out here.
- Assess your supply lines. What’s the current status of everything, meaning what stage of production are you in for your products. How much is in Raw Materials? Example, can that denim fabric be used for crops and shorts? How much is in piece goods? How much is in Finished Product form? What are your new lead times? What options do you have to convert piece goods to different final products? Knowing exactly where you stand will give you the maximum flexibility to react quickly to your customers’ needs and make your business pandemic proof!
- Think outside the box. Perhaps you never needed to work with certain customers like a Ross or Burlington or TJMaxx. Perhaps, now is the time to reach out to a Target or Walmart since their business hasn’t been nearly as impacted as everyone else? Be creative. Are there other Suppliers you can partner with since your products are complimentary? Example might be you specialize in Bathroom accessories and you partner with a Towel Supplier to create sets. Perhaps it’s time to sell direct to consumer through an Amazon Store or Ebay Store? The point here is, in the new normal, nothing is off the table. Companies across America, and the World, are rewriting the rules, and the tools, they need to be competitive.
It will take 6-12 months, if not longer, to recover from this pandemic. Some many never recover. The New Normal could very well be very different; working from home more often, few meeting with fewer people in those meetings. New shopping habits are being formed, with curbside pickup or pick up in store, potentially being more common than shopping in the store. We all need to think differently about how we interact with the world, and, how it interacts with us. As I write this, a security guard for a Family Dollar store was shot and killed because he refused to let a customer enter the store without a mask. Has it really come to this? Is face to face buying worth dying for? What will the new protocols be for shopping both for the employee and the customer? I don’t have all the answers but what I shared above are a few things you can do today to better position yourself for tomorrow.