November 29, 2018

Thought You Might Like To See This

In a recent dataset, here's the percentage of new merchandise sold by marketing channel.
  • Catalog Call Center = 36% New.
  • Online = 33% New.
  • Comparison Shopping Engines = 22% New.
  • Email Marketing = 29% New.
  • Natural Search = 28% New.
  • Paid Search = 29% New.
  • Affiliates = 29% New.
  • Online Orders via Call Center = 28% New.
There's a trend here that I frequently observe:
  • Online marketing, and Google in particular, drive traffic that likes established winning products.
  • The most expensive channels (catalogs + call center) have the highest rate of new merchandise.
In a modern world, you want to align the best products with the most expensive marketing channels, so that the best product can pay the freight!

In a modern world, you want to align your new merchandise with the least expensive marketing channels (Email, Employee Influencers, Instagram/Social, Your App, Home/Landing Pages), giving them as much exposure as possible at the lowest possible cost.

Keep that in mind as you design your tactics for 2019, ok?

P.S.: The Google-thing is discouraging. Folks on Twitter tell me this is common ... that Google funnels traffic to products that "historically worked", which of course increases #engagement for Google. But that may not be what is best for you. If you don't give new merchandise enough exposure today, you won't have enough existing/winning items tomorrow.

P.P.S.: In this same analysis, the highest sales rates among winning items were in Natural Search and Paid Search. Again, Google is funneling traffic for winning items, and is not providing the same exposure for your newer items. You've got to find a way to give new items exposure at a low-cost / no-cost.

November 28, 2018

3 For The Price Of ...

That's what I see in the mailbox on Wednesday afternoon ... Pendleton sending three catalogs, all three to the wrong name (two different spellings of the wrong name, mind you).

I have about 2,493 snarky things to say about this, and none of the comments are productive, so I'll just leave the image there for your consideration.

Meanwhile Shopify tells us that 66% of Black Friday - Cyber Monday transactions on their platform were via mobile, with just 34% via desktop (click here).

Somewhere around 2005 marketing bifurcated, with e-commerce going in one direction and traditional cataloging going in another direction.

Somewhere around 2015 marketing bifurcated again, with mobile going in one direction and traditional e-commerce going in another direction.

When bifurcation happens, staffing shifts out of the channels being abandoned, toward the channels being adopted. This means that marketing responsibility is outsourced (for the incumbent channel). Oversight for accuracy is outsourced as well. Proceed with caution, ok?

Do "B" Items Become Hyper-Winning "A" Items?

In my example, using real data, here's what happened to "B" items next year.
  • 6% graduate to "A" status.
  • 58% remain in "B" status.
  • 23% slump to "C" status.
  • 4% slump to "D" status.
  • 2% slump to "F" status.
  • 7% of items are discontinued.
The key thing to analyze is the ratio of items that graduate to items that slump:
  • 6% graduate.
  • 58% remain static.
  • 36% slump or are discontinued.
So that's a problem.

Items are in a continual state of erosion.

This means we need a steady diet of new/winning items.

And you, the marketer, are in a prime position to help move new items into winning status. Do your job and give exposure to new merchandise, starting today, in low-cost channels.


November 27, 2018

MLV - Items Eventually Slump

Here's an example from the data I analyzed ... let's look at the "best of the best" ... the top 5% of the merchandise assortment. I graded my merchandise segments A/B/C/D/F so that means the top 5% is an "A". I wanted to see what happened to "A" items in the next year. Here's what happened:
  • 71% remained at "A" status.
  • 19% dropped to "B" status.
  • 3% dropped to "C" status.
  • 1% dropped to "D" status.
  • 1% dropped to "F" status.
  • 5% were completely discontinued.
One wonders why 5% of the very best items were discontinued in the first place? There are always good reasons for this.

Only 71% of the items remained in the hyper-winning "A" segment. This means that many items begin to die. This is why new merchandise is so darn important - you have to find new items to replace the 29% of winning items (in our example) that slumped or were discontinued. Marketers are well-equipped to help facilitate this process. Go make something good happen, ok??

November 26, 2018

Merchandise Lifetime Value (MLV) - Incremental Improvement

Ok, I used my simulation model to illustrate what would happen to five-year merchandise lifetime value (MLV) if I was able to increase the number of new items in the top 55% by 10% (take items out of the bottom 45% and move them to the top 55%).
  • Base 5-Year MLV = $1,824,039 per 1,000 new items.
  • Improved 5-Year MLV = $1,971,593 per 1,000 new items.
  • Improvement = 8.1%.
If the marketer just makes a concerted effort - featuring new items in low-cost areas (email, Instagram, home page, key landing pages) ... and follows through on delivering a 10% increase in good new items ... then Merchandise Lifetime Value (MLV) increases by 8%.

The best part of this? When merchandise productivity improves, marketing gets to spend more on fun activities because those activities have a better return on investment because the merchandise the customers will purchase becomes more productive.

This isn't rocket science.

And it is so darn easy to do.

Go do it!!!!

November 25, 2018

Cyber Monday and MLV

Today the trade press will breathlessly cheer on your ability to generate a ton of volume at no profit whatsoever. "Winners" will be determined based on 50% off plus free shipping ... not based on profit that contributes to your annual bonus.

So if you have to ruin your p&l to please vendors  / trade journalists / thought leaders, at least feature new merchandise in your craven desire to make a statement by crushing the competition, ok? At least push new items into winning status, which pays off considerably in the long-term?

How much does it pay off in the long-term?

I'll talk about that tomorrow.

November 20, 2018

Merchandise Lifetime Value - MLV - Depends On First-Year Performance

Let's say that a new item performs in the bottom 45% of the assortment.
  • Five-Year Cumulative Demand = $348.
Let's say that a new item performs between the 46th percentile and the 70th percentile.
  • Five-Year Cumulative Demand = $1,569.
Let's say that a new item performs between the 71th percentile and the 85th percentile.
  • Five-Year Cumulative Demand = $4,328.
Let's say that a new item performs between the 86th percentile and the 95th percentile.
  • Five-Year Cumulative Demand = $11,380.
Let's say that a new item performs between the 96th percentile and the 100th percentile.
  • Five-Year Cumulative Demand = $35,714.
Yes, this is based on actual data I recently analyzed.

This is why it is SO IMPORTANT for the marketer to play a key role in promoting new merchandise to the customer base. Just migrating a lousy new item to the 46th - 75th percentiles results in a nearly 5x improvement in MLV.

Bumping the item up another level increases MLV by nearly 3x.

Bumping the item up another level increases MLV by nearly 2.5x.

Bumping the item up to peak winning status increases MLV by another 3x.

Now, are you ever going to get a crappy new item to become a peak winner? Absolutely not. But can you move an item up one segment, and achieve a 3x-ish MLV improvement for the item?? YES!!!! And if you do that consistently, you'll have great merchandise productivity, and that causes your marketing productivity to greatly improve - allowing you to spend more on marketing at a better ROI.

Are you against achieving better marketing ROI via giving new merchandise appropriate exposure?

November 19, 2018

Cumulative MLV

In our example, we have five years of data to analyze - and we can use that data to project MLV for a new item.

That's what I'm doing here with this graph.

After ten years, how much cumulative demand does an average new item generate?

About $2,500.

Armed with this knowledge, you can back into how many new items you need each year for your business to achieve corporate objectives.

More on the topic tomorrow.

November 18, 2018


Y'all have heard of Customer Lifetime Value (called CLV or LTV), right? Another 10% of you calculate the metric and know what the right level of customer acquisition spend truly is.

Of course, marketers focus on the metric from the perspective of the customer, and for good reason.

But what about merchandise? Is there a version of lifetime value associated with merchandise?

Of course there is!

Call it "MLV" or "Merchandise Lifetime Value". It's the amount of demand and/or gross margin dollars that can be generated by a new item over time.

It's a critically important metric, because by knowing the metric the marketer can do two things.
  1. The marketer can tell the merchandising team how many new items have to be released annually to achieve important company goals.
  2. The marketer can feature new items that are about to become winners, thereby increasing MLV ... and when MLV increases, all marketing performance increases, which means that the marketer can spend more on all of the tactics the marketer loves to execute.
Look at the image above - an average new item generates $273,000 in year one, then $511,000 in year two, then $415,000 in year three, then $342,000 in year four, and $283,000 in year five.

Of course, by year five, we don't have the same quantity of items that we started with. Items are discontinued, while a small fraction of items become winning items and those items generate a fortune.

The graph above demonstrates what a difficult year the first year is - this is when the marketer needs to step in and make sure that new items are given ample exposure so that the potential winners actually become potential winners. Too often marketers squelch new merchandise (I've done it) by not giving new merchandise enough exposure.

More on the topic tomorrow.

November 15, 2018

Speaking of Omnichannel Theory

Have you ever purchased something from Apple?

Apple are Visual Merchandising experts. You might buy a lightning cable and you instead get a Tiffany's style presentation of your overpriced cable. That's the power of Visual Merchandising.

I ordered a rug from Home Depot. They outsourced delivery to a third party ... and the third party appears to have outsourced delivery to another party - a dude driving a Penske Rental Truck. I was supposed to sign for the item ... nobody rang the doorbell, I didn't sign, and as a consequence I didn't see what arrived until I saw the Penske Rental Truck pulling away from my home.

I opened the front door - and I was greeted by the image featured here.

The rug might have been dragged down a freshly paved road.

You can have the best omnichannel strategy on the planet ... but if you fail in any of the three key areas, your omnichannel strategy is utterly feckless.
  1. Merchandise. Yup, that's what customers actually purchase.
  2. Visual Merchandising / Creative. Does the rug above pass the Visual Merchandising test?
  3. Execution. Home Depot outsourced their execution to a third party that couldn't have cared less about executing properly. Which means that Home Depot isn't going to sell me any rugs in the future.
If you have great merchandise, and if you present the merchandise in a compelling manner, and if you execute well, you'll sell stuff. If you adhere to the omnichannel thesis and fail at merchandise / visual merchandising / execution, you have problems.

Focus on what matters for your business, ok?

November 14, 2018

Omnichannel Customers Are The Best Customers

Omnichannel customers may well be the best customers. But that doesn't mean that the omnichannel thesis caused customers to become best customers.

It can be hard to understand the concept of "incremental value". Simply put, incremental value is the additional value that you achieve, above and beyond what would normally have happened.

Let's say you have a customer who purchased online three times. This customer is about to purchase again, and wants to buy online. But the company invested money in a buy-online-pickup-in-store strategy (BOPIS as the pundits say), so the customer goes to the store and buys something. The customer is now an omnichannel buyer ... online and store.

Assume the customer would normally have migrated from 3x online / 0x retail status to 4x online / 0x retail status.
  • Annual Value increases from $76.79 to $98.59 ... $21.80 annual sales gain.
But instead the customer migrates from 3x online / 0x retail to 3x online / 1x retail status.
  • Annual Value increases from $76.79 to $114.81 ... $38.02 annual sales gain.
The incremental gain, of course, is the difference between what would have happened ($21.80) to what now happens ($38.02). The difference is $16.22 annual sales gain.

The $16.22 is the incremental annual sales gain caused by the omnichannel thesis. It is more than $0, so that tells us that the omnichannel thesis has some value. That's a good thing.

Then there's the bad thing.

First, we subtract cost of goods and we're left with maybe $6 of annual value. Then we subtract the incremental cost of transacting in a retail store ... that could (depending upon your CFO) include incremental retail employee costs, store rent, and potentially interest expense because the customer is now required to contribute to pay down the debt required to build the store. Worse, the customer has to pay for the incremental cost of the software required to make "BOPIS" possible in the first place. These costs are compared against online costs (pick/pack/ship) ... so you only assess the incremental above-and-beyond costs associated with moving the customer down this path.

This is where the "omnichannel posse" hops on Twitter and condemns the analysis. They'll say that there are customers who wouldn't buy, period, unless the BOPIS option was available. That's a hard one to prove ... but sure, go ahead and tell me how many customers fall into that category, and we'll give full incremental value to those customers and assign credit to the omnichannel thesis. This is a wild guess, of course, so we should discount the value of a guess, right?

From there, you run a profit-and-loss statement. Did the omnichannel thesis provide enough incremental profit to offset the costs associated with moving a customer into omnichannel status?

Show of hands ... how many profit-and-loss statements have you seen that factor in incremental value?

This is the style of analysis required to prove that the omnichannel thesis is appropriate. Go run it, ok?

November 13, 2018

Omnichannel Theory

Omnichannel Theory / Customer Experience Theory is predicated on the hypothesis that when a customer does "more" the customer becomes "more" valuable.

The data used to support the theory is highly fraudulent, to say the least. Typically, those promoting the theory average historical spend for all customers buying from one channel (i.e. $100) and compare it to average historical spend for all customers buying from multiple channels (i.e. $900). Those who promote the theory look at the ratio of spend (900 vs. 100) and say that the omnichannel buyer is worth 9x as much ... and then paint a picture where the "brand" is encouraged to convert as many customers as possible to as many channels as possible because the opportunity is a 9x increase in customer spend.

We know the measurement strategy is highly flawed ... just look at Macy's, who have suffered through a 10% sales drop in the past few years while touting their omnichannel strategy. If the strategy worked, sales would have increased dramatically.

Tomorrow I'll explain a few of the metrics in the attached table. I analyzed customers who purchased up-to-five times historically, with at least one purchase in the past year. The story told in the table directly contradicts what those who promote omnichannel theory want you to believe, but directly support the fact that omnichannel brands don't enjoy sales increases.

November 12, 2018

Last Chance For 2018 Pricing

I have room for one more project for the remainder of 2018 ... one more! However, if you get your project in before Thanksgiving, I will honor 2018 "Total Package" pricing. In 2019, there will be a new pricing structure, so get your project in now to get lower prices ... and if you are first, you get your project completed in December.

2018 "Total Package" Pricing:
  • Annual Sales $1 to $9,999,999 = $9,000.
  • Annual Sales $10,000,000 to $29,999,999 = $15,000.
  • Annual Sales $30,000,000 to $59,999,999 = $20,000.
  • Annual Sales $60,000,000 to $99,999,999 = $28,000.
  • Annual Sales $100,000,000 to $999,999,999 = $35,000.
  • Annual Sales $1,000,000,000 and Greater = $40,000.

November 11, 2018

If You Thought 20% Off Was Bad ...

Remember our example from last week?

We were talking about 20% off, and we were discussing how you had to sell 83% more units to increase demand by about 46% to generate equal levels of profitability compared to selling at full price.

Of course, there aren't many of us who are out there selling at a paltry 20% off. And with Cyber Monday just around the corner and trade journalists screaming about discounts leading to "another record" event (which allows them to get clicks and to get paid by the vendors who support your CRM efforts to promote Cyber Monday discounts ... interesting, don't you think?) ... you're more likely to be closer to 40% off than 20% off.

In our example above, how many units do we need to sell if we bump things up to 40% off?

Hint - it's a lot of units.

We need to sell 11 times as many units, generating more than 6x as much demand, to achieve the same level of profitability.

In other words, one of three things (or all three things) are happening when you see a brand offering 40% off.
  1. The business is dying and nobody is buying the merchandise, leaving the company with no choice whatsoever but to discount heavily to move through inventory.
  2. The business has gross margins that are north of 70%, allowing for a cycle of fake markups and brisk discounts.
  3. The business employs professionals who do not understand math.
Keep 1/2/3 in mind when you look at discounts on Cyber Monday in a few weeks, ok?

Your job is to do what is right for your business, not what is right for other people.

Generate profit.

P.S.:  If you are frustrated with discounts about discussions (and my unsubs suggest you don't like it when I point out the math behind discounts), then read this from Stitch Fix ... about personalized communications (click here). There are so many ways to be successful ... ways that have nothing to do with discounting merchandise because customers aren't as responsive as you forecasted them to be. 

November 08, 2018

You Need To Move A Lot Of Units To Make The Math Work

"The Industry", largely comprised of your vendor partners, wants you to use discounts / promotions to tickle the buying bone of today's price sensitive customer ... or so they tell you. Just look at the lather they get themselves into talking about Cyber Monday, for instance.

But is discounting right for your business?

You need to move a lot of units to make the math work.

Here's our example from yesterday, taken one step further down to contribution. Look at how many additional units you have to sell at a 50% gross margin and 20% off in order to make the numbers work.

At just 20% off with a 50% gross margin and a $3 cost per item for pick/pack/ship, you need an 83.3% increase in units (which nets out to a 46% increase in demand) just to make the math work.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

In fact, let that sink in for the weekend.

I'll come back to the topic next week, ok?

November 07, 2018


Let's evaluate discounts / promotions within the context of the "Great Eight".

There's no greater temptation than to offer 20% off (or more) when business is not accelerating.

Your vendor partners love it when you discount, because you use their tools to sell more units in the process. Your merchandising team "might" appreciate the discounts as long as they move enough units to open up their buy for more new merchandise in the future. Your CFO likely doesn't enjoy discounting for obvious reasons.

Within the Great Eight, here's where discounting plays a role.

AUDIENCE:  Discounting fundamentally changes the audience. Ask Apple / Google if you want to understand the dynamic ... Apple owns affluent customers and most of the profit ... Google/Android owns a large swath of customers and the scraps of profit associated with a lower-priced category. Discounting pushes you into the "scraps of profit" audience. Full priced selling is MUCH harder and MUCH more profitable.

AWARENESS:  How are you going to communicate to those who don't buy from your brand that you are discounting?

ACQUISITION:  Google/Facebook want you to discount because that drives more traffic their way, which fattens their bottom line. The less profit you make, the more profit they make. Fun business, huh?

WELCOME PROGRAM:  Here's where your existing vendors love you ... now you leverage their tools (databases, campaign management systems, social, print, television, radio, billboards, retargeting) to communicate your wonderful 20% off opportunity.

ANNIVERSARY PROGRAM:  Again, your existing vendors love you ... you leverage their tools to communicate your version of Amazon Prime Day, and you give discounts to customers who haven't purchased in a year.

OPTIMIZATION PROGRAM:  Again, your existing vendors love you ... you might optimize your discounts using their tools, you might optimize customer long-term value, you might optimize the number of annual print pieces to send to a customer, you might optimize the number of email campaigns per week featuring discounts. In most cases, you'll be using vendor-based tools to get to a theoretical "optimal" outcome.

NEW MERCHANDISE:  Discounts can be used to move merchandise that isn't working, though there are many other ways to achieve a more optimal outcome (smarter inventory buys, using marketing spend to move units instead of discounts).

EXISTING MERCHANDISE:  See "new merchandise".

As you can see, discounts touch most areas of the "Great Eight" ... and are of particular value to the vendors selling solutions to you ... because smart discounting either requires you to use their tools or drives more units which results in their tools being more profitable to them. Vendors win when you discount. That's why you read so much about discounting and (in particular) loyalty programs.

Tomorrow, will talk about the other side of discounting ... profitability.

November 06, 2018

Carrying Capacity

In our simulation, we learn that there are different definitions of Carrying Capacity.

If the CFO demands that we maximize profit of acquisition based on one-year profit, then our Carrying Capacity is 37,678 new customers (at an investment of $500,000).

If the CFO demands that we maximize profit of acquisition based on five-year profit, then our Carrying Capacity is 45,000 new customers (at an investment of $1,000,000).

If the CFO demands that we maximize profit of acquisition based on ten-year profit, then our Carrying Capacity is 47,951 new customers (at an investment of $1,250,000).

Notice that the difference between spending $250,000 on customer acquisition and $1,250,000 on customer acquisition isn't great.

Notice that the difference between spending $250,000 on customer acquisition and $1,250,000 on customer acquisition is HUGE when evaluating 10-year profit.

In other words, we frequently optimize for short-term profit, and we wonder why our business never grows in a healthy manner.

Measure Carrying Capacity. If you want a healthy business in the long-term, you have no choice but to know what your Carrying Capacity is.

November 05, 2018


Here's an example of the concept of Carrying Capacity for a brand.

Yes, I know, it's hard to read and it is a tiny image. There's a lot of data there. Click on the image for more details.

This company is making a killing on customer acquisition. It's spending a million dollars a year, and is generating $1.6 million in annual profit from customer acquisition. This company is simply not spending enough money to acquire customers.

Let's try a simulation. Instead of spending $1.0 million, let's spend $1.5 million acquiring new customers, ok?

We're less profitable after on year. We're less profitable after two years. We're less profitable after three years. But we're more profitable in years four through ten. After ten years of total profit summation, this strategy is more profitable.

The new Marketing Leader runs a bunch of simulated outcomes, then sits down with the CFO and comes up with a sound strategy for the business - one agreed upon by both the CFO and the new Marketing Leader.

Tomorrow, I'll share what the carrying capacity is for this business.

November 04, 2018

Carrying Capacity

Here's the biological definition of Carrying Capacity (click here).

In marketing, the Carrying Capacity of a brand is the amount of new customers that can be acquired while satisfying short-term and/or long-term brand profitability requirements.

There are few things more important to the new Marketing Leader than knowing the Carrying Capacity of the brand on Day One of a new job. The new Marketing Leader first sits down with the CFO and learns what the short-term and long-term profitability targets are. Then, the new Marketing Leader runs a handful of simulations, measuring what happens to both short-term and long-term profit as customer acquisition spend is varied.

Tomorrow, I'll show you an example of what Carrying Capacity really means to the new Marketing Leader.

November 02, 2018


Every so often, I get one of those emails from the vendor community ... something about how print is critically important in a digital world. You know there is some sort of coordinated effort, because a popular vendor will say something and then a paper rep says something and then newsletters include the content and then consultants are talking about it and then clients say something to me about it ... see how that works?

So it got me thinking ... if print is in a period of resurgence as the industry says print is, then sales at RR Donnelley and Quad Graphics should be surging and those businesses should be healthy, right? Right?

Fortunately, each company issues quarterly sales updates and produces annual reports - in accordance with their status as publicly traded companies. And we're all able to read those statements and learn what is actually happening - as opposed to the content produced by the industry.
There are interesting comments in the documents. Here's annual sales at Quad:
  • 2013 = $4.7 billion.
  • 2014 = $4.8 billion.
  • 2015 = $4.6 billion.
  • 2016 = $4.3 billion.
  • 2017 = $4.1 billion.
  • 2018 = Trending toward $3.9 billion.
Oh oh.

Look at what Quad says on page 7:
  • "Over the past seven years, the Company has closed 41 manufacturing plants representing nearly 13 million square feet of under-utilized production capacity. This commitment to consolidating work into fewer facilities to maximize capacity is one key way Quad/Graphics maintains platform excellence and remains the industry's high-quality, low-cost producer."
Look at what Quad said about their 2018 outlook:
  • "In 2018, the Company expects net sales to range from a slight decrease to a slight increase as compared to 2017 primarily driven by organic growth in the International segment, partially offset by the anticipated continuing volume declines in the Variable Print segment and price pressures in most parts of the business."
A comment from RR Donnelley:
  • "The print and related services industry, in general, continues to have excess capacity and remains highly competitive and fragmented."
That only happens when supply exceeds demand - they built their infrastructure expecting a certain level of print volume and that level of print volume isn't happening.

Another comment from Quad - 21,000 employees as of today ... but 41 plant closures resulted in the elimination of 11,800 employees. That's a lot of contraction. A lot of that happens because of efficient operations. Some of that happens because print volume is in decline.

An RR Donnelley tidbit:
  • If you invested $100 in RRD stock in 2012 you'd have $94 today.
  • If you invested $100 in the S&P Small Cap 600 in 2012 you'd have $209 today.
Why share all of this information?

You can earn a TON OF PROFIT using a marketing channel that is in decline ... I've got many clients doing just that ... and Quad is generating profit in spite of the structural decline of the industry. Heck, people have been saying TV is dead for more than a decade, and it may well die sometime, but ask Fox News or CNN if they're printing money or not during this election cycle?

Make no mistake ... there isn't a resurgence in print. The industry is in structural decline.

The industry doesn't need to lie to you. If everybody operate with integrity, there'd be plenty of profit to go around, regardless of the long-term prospects of print.

Do what is right for your business. Make profitable decisions. That may include print. That may include other channels.

November 01, 2018

Macy's Is Doing Something I Agree With: Employee Influencers

I didn't think I'd be praising Macy's this week, but this is fantastic (click here).

300 employee influencers out of their employee base is close to nothing, but don't worry about that right now. You are potentially a new Marketing Leader, and you need to acquire new customers at low-cost / no-cost. It costs Macy's nothing to have employees perform AWARENESS work on their behalf. And if the employee actually sells something, the employee gets a percentage of the order.

Tell me why you aren't already doing this? You constantly ask for low-cost / no-cost ideas. Well, here you have one. Tell me what stops you from doing this?

Do You Want To See What You Are Interested In?

The stats below represent data through about Noon Pacific Time on Thursday. Ok, I wrote about the E-Commerce Priority Grid (click here) . Th...