6 Things to Consider When Selecting and Implementing a New Merchandise Planning System

According to the recent BRP Merchandise Planning Survey conducted by BRP, 63% of retailers are planning to upgrade their merchandise planning systems within 2 years.  It is surprising how many retailers are not satisfied with their current planning systems, given the amount of time and money they have put into them over the years.  This is probably due to the fact that legacy systems have not kept pace with recent changes in the industry and business processes, such as offering omni-channel services.

Whether replacing existing merchandise planning systems or implementing a new system for the first time, there are several key points that should be considered to select the right system for your needs:

Meeting_Small1. Understand what is and is not working with the existing systems

This may sound trivial at first glance, but it is critical to the ultimate success of the initiative because it will not only clarify the reasons for replacement, but will also highlight the positives that are worth keeping – yes, some things may actually be working well!  It also brings to light some business process issues that differ across the organization; perhaps the way the men’s department is planning gives better results but the women’s department is not following the same process.

2. Measure past results

In order to determine where the success and opportunities are, measuring past plans against actual results is critical.  This needn’t be an elaborate exercise and can be done with dollars, units or margin.  Looking at the plans at an appropriate level (department or class) for the past few seasons and years should be sufficient to see how well planning is being done throughout the organization.  It will also help to identify which planners are doing a good job and who needs some guidance.

3. Define the business strategy

Now we need to make some important decisions regarding the scope and method of planning.  Will we plan at an overall omni-channel level and then drive down to each individual channel?  Who will do the planning? Will the people who plan men’s shirts do so for all channels or will we have different teams of people planning each channel separately?  Will reporting roll up from individual channel plans?  What if the bottoms-up and top-down plans don’t match – who wins?  These are some of the same issues that have always been present in merchandise planning in a larger organization, but they are more critical now that we are in an omni-channel world.

4. Thoroughly examine each tool’s capabilities

When examining each vendor and their merchandise planning tools, it is critical to understand what functionality they offer.  Even more important is to discover how that functionality is going to work for your company and with your data.  Many companies prefer to follow the traditional RFP process while others focus more on detailed demos and working sessions using slices of real data.  In either case, there is more to learn than just having a checklist of requirements.  Of course other factors such as licensing cost, hardware requirements, cloud vs. on-premise are important to consider as well.

5. Ensure availability of internal resources with the needed skill sets and capacity

While implementing a merchandise planning system has many technology components, a large portion of the effort will reside with the business users.  This is rarely an easy task and frequently involves large blocks of time for data validation, testing, discussing results and re-planning.  All of this is in addition to the normal workload that planners must complete, particularly during the first detailed planning effort using the new tool.  While there is risk involved in moving to a new system and hoping for the best, it is frequently impractical to run the old and new system side-by-side.  This not only takes extra time but the results may not match due to changes in calculations or process changes that will be difficult to reconcile.

6. Don’t underestimate issues around data

Getting the right information into a merchandise planning system on a timely basis is a difficult process and may differ depending on the maturity of the old and new system.  For example, extracting data out of spreadsheets for input into a true planning system will raise different issues than moving from one mature system to another.  Some data that is required by the new system may be incomplete, inconsistent or simply not easily available.  It isn’t uncommon to discover during the project that new interfaces need to be written to extract data from other systems.  It is important to consider the timing, as loading all the detailed data by SKU for the past three years could require weeks of running extract and load programs.

Choosing and implementing a merchandise planning system is a complex, time-consuming and costly process but with the right plan and experienced resources to help with the process it can transform your business.

As always, I appreciate your insights and comments on this topic.


Why are 63% of retailers upgrading their merchandise planning systems within 2 years?

Current retail planning systems are out-of-date and don’t effectively address today’s requirements for an omni-channel planning environment, according to Boston Retail Partners’ 2015 Merchandise Planning Benchmark Survey. Many retailers are using planning applications designed for old retail business models with a large percentage of these systems installed in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Fast-forward to today, and many retailers are attempting to meet the needs of a 21st century customer while constrained by 20th century technology.

63PercentThe good news is that retailers realize the issue and 63% of our survey respondents plan to upgrade or replace their merchandise planning systems within two years. This is just one of the many insights identified in the 2015 Merchandise Planning Survey of top North American retailers. The survey results offer insights into retailers’ current planning initiatives, priorities, and future trends as the retail industry continues its omni-channel transformation.

Key findings in the 2015 Merchandise Planning Benchmark Survey include:2015 Merchandise Planning Survey Cover2

  • Planning systems are outdated – 63% of retailers plan to upgrade or replace their merchandise planning systems within two years
  • Analytics is the top priority – 58% of retailers indicated that improving analytics is their top priority for the next year
  • Advanced analytics are gaining traction – 75% of retailers use advanced analytics for merchandise planning, however, fewer use advanced analytics for store planning (45%), assortment planning (40%) and omni-channel planning (20%)
  • Integrated merchandising plans are not working well – While 50% of retailers have implemented integrated merchandising plans (financial plans, promotional calendars, planning teams and assortment plans), most of these retailers indicate they need improvement
  • Separate inventory across channels – 49% of retailers still maintain separate inventories for each channel
  • Social media use for merchandise planning is opportunistic – While 71% of retailers indicated that they capture customer feedback via social media, only 23% are using social media for product planning

I encourage you to read the report to learn about other key merchandise planning initiatives and priorities for retailers.

Download the complete report: 2015 Merchandise Planning Benchmark Survey

I hope you enjoy the report and welcome any comments or feedback.  Please share your comments below.


The Convergence of POS and Order Management Systems – RetailTechCon 2015 Workshop Recap

Boston Retail Partners conducted the “Solving Omni-Channel Challenges – The Convergence of POS and Order Management Systems” workshop at RetailTechCon in Orlando on March 26, 2015. The workshop brought together more than 50 retailers for a discussion on the convergence of POS and OMS.

This interactive workshop included audience participation and an artist summarizing the discussion with graphic images in real-time (see below).

RetailTechCon 2015 Workshop Drawing

The retail executives attending this session debated the benefits and challenges of implementing a unified order management system as well as several key implications to consider. It was a lively debate with some very interesting points from a pragmatic retail perspective.

Discussion SummaryRetailTechCon2015_GroupPhoto

Retailers can no longer afford to operate within channel silos. Now is the time for retailers to transform the organization, business processes and technology to align with the new shopping behaviors and expectations of today’s customers.

A single commerce platform is the new imperative for handling orders, fulfillment and inventory across channels in real-time. A unified commerce platform is the end goal and a unified order management system is the best approach to achieve that goal. Order management systems are designed to handle complex fulfillment options for eCommerce orders and can evolve to handle transactions in the store and are well suited to be a unified commerce engine across all channels.

Here is a link to download the document that recaps this workshop discussion:

DOWNLOAD: Solving Omni-Channel Challenges – The Convergence of POS and Order Management Systems

As always, I am interested in your feedback on this topic. Please share your opinions and comments below.


WEBINAR: Straight Talk about the Changing Face of Retail

Mark your calendar and watch this Webinar to learn why leading retailers are adopting unified commerce platforms to break-down channel silos.

RIS News Webinar: Straight Talk about the Changing Face of Retail

Event Date: 3/5/2015 1:00 PM (EST)

Register Here

Customers are completely changing the face of retail, forcing retailers to change their siloed thinking of the past. A key element in this evolution is the convergence of online and in-store systems into a unified commerce platform that leverages the latest technological advances to serve omnichannel shoppers. According to a recently released study by Boston Retail Partners, the pace of unified commerce platform implementations will increase by 663% over the next four years. More than a third of retailers will carry out an implementation within two years and more than 50% within four years.

In this webinar you will hear from Ken Morris, principal at Boston Retail Partners, and Keith Swenson VP of R&D at Fujitsu America, who will provide straight talk and insight into key developments that are driving the evolution of the store:

  • Breaking down channel silos – the Achilles Heel of retail technology
  • Understanding the building blocks of unified commerce – robust middleware, master data management and business process management
  • Best practices from successful use cases of unified commerce in action today

Join this webinar to get a jump start on your unified commerce transformation.

Joe Skorupa, Editorial Director, RIS News

Ken Morris, Principal, Boston Retail Partners
Keith Swenson, VP of R&D, Fujitsu America

BPM White Paper CoverFor more information on this topic, I recommend you read this white paper:

Achieve Unified Commerce With The Right Technology






What Technology does it take to Achieve Unified Commerce?

It’s very simple, customers perceive and shop retail brands not channels. This simple premise is the catalyst for retailers shifting their focus to a holistic customer experience and what we term “unified commerce.” Retailers can no longer fragment that experience by channel, but must deliver a customer experience that transcends channels. Unified commerce is the new retail paradigm, driven by the customer that is forever redefining retail.















In this year’s Boston Retail Partners CRM/Unified Commerce and POS/Customer Engagement surveys, retailers indicated that establishing a unified commerce approach is a top company priority. However, only a small percentage of retailers have successfully achieved a unified commerce model. Unified commerce is a transformational undertaking that forces retailers to look not only outward at the customer, but also inward at themselves. Retailers can no longer afford to operate from within silos, and must transform their organization, business processes and technology if they want to align with their customers.

We recently published a white paper titled “Achieve Unified Commerce with the Right Technology” that takes a deeper dive into the technology that enables unified commerce. We are at a strategic inflection point, where retailers can only hope to achieve a unified commerce experience by leveraging the right technology. Download this white paper to see what technology is required to successfully achieve unified commerce and read about realistic use cases that demonstrates the value it brings to retailers.

  • BPM White Paper CoverKey technologies discussed include:
  • Single Commerce Platform
  • Middleware/SOA
  • Master Data Management (MDM)
  • Business Process Management (BPM)

Use cases for unified commerce focused on:

  • Customer Engagement: Personalized Selling and Promotions
  • Store Operations: Monitor and Respond in Real-time
  • Supply Chain: Enterprise Inventory Visibility – In Real-time

As always, I am interested in your thoughts and opinions on this topic. Please share your comments below.