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Introduction To Merchandising

Merchandising and Retailing

Welcome to the dynamic, exciting world of retail merchandising! Today, retailers everywhere, rely heavily on MERCHANDISERS, to ensure that their MERCHANDISE (products for sale) is always presented as attractively and accessibly as possible to customers on the shopfloor, and at the point of sale. Merchandising fulfils many vital functions in a retail store, but its main function is to maximise the retailer’s sales.

Let’s take a moment, and think about retail as the production of a movie. Next time you watch a movie, whether exciting or boring, remember, there were literally hundreds, even thousands, of people involved with the production of this movie! Likewise, in a retail store, the customer only sees the final product, but there’s a lot of activity going on “behind the scenes” such as merchandising to make it all happen for the customer.

What is Merchandising?

In the retail world, merchandising is the function of promoting and making products available to customers, at the:

  • right time
  • right place
  • correct quantity 
  • best quality

This is primarily done by stocking shelves and building displays within a retail store.

MERCHANDISING ACTIVITIES may include display techniques and tools, free samples, on-the-spot demonstrations, pricing, shelf “talkers” (shown in the photo here), special offers, and other point-of-sale (POS) methods.

Merchandising is also a way of communicating with the store’s customers. In other words, our product displays (on-shelf and off-the-shelf), stock levels and point-of-sale (POS) material must first get noticed by customers, then attract them, and then persuade them to want to buy our product. 

Whose Job is it?

Merchandising used to only be done by a retail store’s (own) employees, but today, the manufacturer or SUPPLIER that provides the products to the retail store has the first (primary) responsibility for merchandising. These suppliers employ their own merchandisers to ensure that their products are stocked and displayed correctly on the store’s shelves and elsewhere (such as at the till points). Some major food manufacturers, like Tiger Brands and Unilever, employ hundreds (even thousands) of merchandisers within their companies.

By doing this, retail stores have been able to save some money as they now need less of their own people to stock shelves and display products. The supplier’s merchandiser and the retailer’s own staff must still work together to ensure proper merchandising of all stock in the store and in the storerooms at the back.      

Nowadays, we also see specialist merchandising companies who act as AGENTS on behalf of food and grocery manufacturers to take care of all or most of the merchandising activities and functions involved in a retail store.

When is Merchandising Done?

The short answer is: always. Stocking shelves and building displays are done when the product is delivered and throughout the day (even at night sometimes) to ensure that products are always as attractive and accessible as possible to customers. This is why merchandising is so important to retailers - 24/7, 365!  

The Art and Science of Merchandising

Merchandising is both an art and a science.

Think of merchandising as “commercial art” which is much more than merely making something look nice. The art of it lies in the need to creatively present, pack and display products on-shelf and on the shopfloor so that it will grab the consumer’s attention, and stimulate their curiosity to either learn more about the product, try it out and or buy it.

The science of merchandising means that good merchandisers must also know what makes consumers “tick” - to understand CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR - and what will create an attractive, stimulating buying environment for consumers (Bell and Ternus, 2011 cited in Norris, 2013:1).

So, merchandisers have to be able to think creatively and scientifically at the same time.

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Now that we have a better understanding of what merchandising is we will explain, in your next reading, the merchandiser’s role in a retail store and what the specific functions of merchandising are.