June 03, 2014

Commerce Nightmares: It's Their Fault!

Ever watch a sporting event? Have you noticed how teammates support each other, congratulate each other, support each other?

I suppose it is easier to support each other when you are winning. Who knows, maybe the support leads to more winning?

Now, I'm not hired to verify that a 10% pre-tax profit business is doing things right. No, not even close. I'm hired to solve a problem for a company that, quite often, is struggling.

In 22 of the last 27 Merchandise Forensics projects I've worked on, I was able to find a merchandise-centric problem. The fun begins after you share what you've learned. I get it, I get it, it's hard to be a merchant. But the first sentence I hear from the merchandising leader tells me whether there is the potential for a Commerce Nightmare.

Here's the comment that suggests a Commerce Nightmare is about to erupt.
  • "I understand what you're saying, but it's not my fault. Take a hard look at marketing. They keep screwing up, making it hard for me to sell my merchandise."
When I hear variants of that statement, a Commerce Nightmare is in the offing.

Then you talk to the marketing folks, and you hear something like this:
  • "The merchants are idiots. And they're egotistical."
Now you know that a Commerce Nightmare is coming.

When I worked at Nordstrom, before the economy collapsed, business was good. And the relationship between merchants and marketers was, predictably ... good! Yes, of course, there were issues, there always will be. But good business fosters good relationships.

When I worked at Lands' End, before the internet, business was ok. And the relationship between merchants and marketers was, well, ok. If anything, the merchandising team might have felt like marketing was stepping all over them.

When I worked at Eddie Bauer, in the late 1990s, there were two years when the sky was falling. And the relationship between merchants and marketers was, well, not good. Bad business fosters bad relationships.

When business is bad, somebody needs to be a leader. Somebody needs to stop feeling defensive, and just focus people on improving business performance. That's really, really hard to do when folks are trying to remain gainfully employed.

If you work at a company that is struggling, look for somebody who is optimistic, who tries to rally folks a common goal. When you see that, your business has a chance - rally around the person. If you don't see that, maybe it is time for you to become that person? And if neither happens (not somebody else, not you), your business might be headed toward a Commerce Nightmare.

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