August 23, 2022

Onsite, Remote or Hybrid? How are Leading Merchants Evolving Work?



Lacey Rotsaert
Solutions Consultant

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On August 17 we brought merchants and industry insiders together with two main goals in mind:

  1. Drink wine and learn about wine-making from Red Car
  2. Talk shop

Here are the takeaways from the second point.

Physical Space is Still Necessary

Almost all attendees are a part of the hybrid workforce. Like the rest of the world, merchandisers were forced into a world they never thought possible. How could they work without their samples and printed reports?! But, it IS possible and our group said, ultimately, the most desirable, modern solution.

Although a lot of work can be accomplished at home, nothing is more important than the product you're producing for customers. And despite the promises of virtual reality, nothing compares to seeing, touching, feeling the product in person. How did that strike-off translate onto the finished garment? Does the color story for the season work together on the floor? These questions still require merchandisers to view the product live with their team.

Scheduling Impactful In-Person Time

Instead of standardizing around days of the week, most teams are scheduling their office time around milestone meetings. Common catalysts for in-person team collaboration include:

  • Concept: conceptual design team lays out the top trends for the upcoming season
  • Strategic Line View: merchandising teams lay out their strategy for the season
  • Assortment Review: design and merchandising have establish their product lines and are proposing them to leadership
  • Financial Workshop: aligning the product lines with their costs, inventory levels and dollar investment by department
  • Line Review: present the line to the CEO + product-facing C-Suite

Working Mother Perks

With 73% of merchandisers being women (and almost all of our attendees!), the conversation about remote work turned to the benefits of being a working mother. Multiple attendees imagined the potential struggles of being a working mother without the benefits of remote work, saying they could imagine having to put their career on hold to raise their children. Imagine the potential impact on the discipline losing out on talent like this in the field!

Looking at jobs currently open in merchandising, more than 50% are on-site only (no hybrid element) and only two openings are fully remote. Our advice for executives and hiring managers? If you want the best talent, consider flexibility in your positions.

The Right Tool Changes Everything

Retail has struggled to advance at the speed of change in the rest of the world. The Pandemic was a forcing factor for many retailers (especially incumbent ones) to take a hard, often unpleasant look at their workflows, technology and mentality to ask, "Are we doing this the best way we can?" With the slew of headlines about retail inventory issues, the reality is that there are better tools to collaborate in a remote, hybrid or on-site environment.

Of course, our customers think Toolio is a part of what gives them a competitive advantage in planning, merchandising and allocation, but other tools were mentioned too.

  • Miro for presenting more visual, collaborative season designs
  • WFX for managing the product lifecycle (no more forever-long email strings with vendors)
  • Shopify because it's hard to talk about eCommerce without talking about Shopify these days
  • Happy Returns for optimizing retail's least favorite function - returns

In Conclusion: Retail Transformation Still in Progress

Ultimately, the group saw the Pandemic as having some positive impact on work-life balance, but did see it slipping back into the status quo. The challenge for retail will be to continue pushing the limits of what's possible to keep talent engaged and creating innovative ways to ensure customers get the products they want when and where they want them.

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