Poor planning capabilities are equivalent to driving a car blindfolded – a disaster waiting to happen. Planning tool capabilities play a critical role in the efficiency, profitability and scalability of a business. Despite its major limitations, many retailers continue to use Excel to plan seasonal ranges and forecast demand but has the time come to move away from spreadsheets to more dynamic solutions?
Common Industry Poor Practice
The main problem merchandise planners face when planning on Excel is the lack of integration between multiple documents that rely on the same data sets. Typically, a minimum of 5 different spreadsheets would be required, one for each phase of planning – Merchandise Financial Planning (MFP), Assortment, Range, Item and Trading. If the spreadsheets are not integrated, all spreadsheets require manual setup each season – this is a time-intensive process and prone to human error.
Planning is commonly performed by merchandisers on Excel spreadsheets that have been set up by one team member and then shared among all users in a business. They answer one colleague’s need and the remaining team are forced to work with the same specific metrics with no intuitive way of adding additional measures or amending workflow. Excel spreadsheets lack flexibility, they are initially formatted to one style of visualization and the remaining users are given no creative customization to view the data differently.
Planning which requires weekly sales and stock actualisation involves the perils of copying and pasting from one data source into the planning documents. Formulas are often overwritten during this process which can cause havoc! Due to the large amount of data stored in planning spreadsheets, recalculation speeds can be incredibly slow and Excel can be prone to crashing.
Solution: Custom Planning Tool
At TPC we understand that every client is different and work with our project sponsors to design and implement bespoke planning tools. All of our consultants come from merchandising backgrounds and therefore can relate to the challenges retailers are facing around planning. We support clients in outlining their requirements for data automation and integration between databases and systems such as Data Warehouses, ERP solutions and PLM software. We also support clients in implementing this to run on a weekly/daily/ad-hoc basis and as a push or pull command depending on the business requirements.
The User Interface and functionality is the day-to-day interaction that merch planning teams have with custom planning tools. It is vital to fit these two elements to the needs and wants of the business, and we work closely with clients to design a solution that suits their planning needs and quirks. Flexibility to analyse key data in any number of ways, such as ‘drag and drop’ design features, supports users’ individual working styles. We advise our clients to consider building into the design the ability to set up and maintain dynamic ‘planning groups’ to maximise the efficiency of Item planning and support ad-hoc requests.
We have seen a shift in the marketplace towards planning tools utilising AI ‘smarts’ to drive additional insights and we expect this trend to continue in 2022. AI-driven algorithms can track changes in demand signals and present recommended actions or be used to drive deeper insights into customer preferences. This functionality is an area retailers should lean into and whilst in-house knowledge and skillsets in this area may be scarce, TPC can provide the expertise to leverage substantial benefit.
To optimise planning, businesses should be investing in tools that save their teams time and provide them with a far deeper and more flexible view of accurate data. Custom planning tools will support your planning as strategies evolve, your business grows, and pioneering practices emerge.