Bringing new products and brands to market – retail stagnation
This article was written by Mark Alexander, Managing Director of Benchmark Retail Services. Benchmark and Brand Voice collaborate on a number of retail projects. The Benchmark team provide Brand Voice with valuable insight as to how brands are performing at point of sale and together we create retail solutions integrating communication and mobile marketing with compelling content.
One major DIY retailer, about 10 years ago, announced that 46 weeks was too long to bring a new product to market and set a target around the 18 week mark. Today, that figure is generally over 52 weeks, systems and protocols, have caused a stagnation of imagination. We see no shortage of innovative and exciting new products during our travels and meetings with clients; their problem is how they can get it in front of consumers before it is obsolete. Their solution is generally to take it outside the ‘Sheds’, the independents and distributors being more accommodating to new ideas and even in this tough market, willing to take a measure of risk.
The major issue remains the adversarial relationship between retailers and suppliers, which is hard to explain given they both have the same fundamental agenda – sell more products. It’s not unusual for trading agreements to be signed anything up to 10 months after the year to which they relate has started, how manufacturers are supposed to plan around that beggars belief.
Where we have seen a substantial increase in business, is where retailers have now abdicated responsibility for bringing product to market. As staff levels have been reduced, the desire to have them customer facing increases, but the core functions don’t just go away – they just get done badly, or not at all. Stock availability is quite simply tragic outside core ranges; database accuracy farcical but clever suppliers are using one or two tactics to get around it.
One is allocating special displays, quarter pallets etc. pre-loaded, accepting replenishment will probably not happen, but at least loading stock into the system. And using third parties to manage their stocks in store, constantly putting them on the store staff’s agenda, supporting and encouraging them through POS material, staff training, database management and identifying non-compliance.
It is here too, that the move to digital marketing, QR codes, multi-media displays and the like, are playing an increasingly important role. The speed suppliers and retailers can react with printed materials, is measured in light-years, compared to well-managed digital communications, their flexibility and consistency of message delivery.
We probably have to accept, regrettably I might add, that the days of relying on a retailer to provide all the core functions one would expect are behind us. Strategies for NPD and promotion, should routinely budget support from field teams or agencies, or factor in a rapid decline in compliance and standards at store level. Think about how you would want your product to be presented, then see the reality in many retailers, ask yourself if getting even the basics right, would be a sound investment.
There are some good retailers out there still, re-focusing on customer service and trying to deliver a better shopping experience all round. Working with them is bringing great rewards as they embrace suppliers’ investment in their businesses, allowing them more space, promotions and significantly, bringing product to market much faster. Until the focus changes from solely delivering investor value through demanding lower product costs, to appreciating a brilliant customer experience will bring just that, change will be hard, but working smartly, suppliers can make even the current system work to their advantage