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Change as An Opportunity for Retail Execution

Peter Billante is chief product officer for Repsly.

The need to be agile or respond to change with key customers (retailers) is now more important than ever, as conditions will still be volatile going into 2021. CGs will need real-time data to be able to respond effectively, real-time communication to direct teams to the right customers and initiatives, and the flexibility to staff up or down, dynamically. How are you going to get everyone on your planning system?

CGs can’t be agile if they don’t have a systematic way to manage their team, platform for communication, reassignment of people/routes/tasks, rescheduling of promotions, or reassignment of promotional placements. That is why CGT caught up with Repsly’s Chief Product Officer Peter Billante, to talk about the trends to watch, what approaches to leave behind, and examples of CGs using data to not just survive but thrive.

CGT: Is there a retail execution (REX) practice or approach that should be left behind?

Billante: Retail execution teams often cover a broad set of in-store tasks, ranging from packing out shelves, to building promotional displays, to taking orders and a variety of other merchandising and brand activation actions. So, in the short-term yes, if your team was covering in-store demoing and sampling activities, that may be an action that won’t return in 2021. Reallocating those teams to different objectives is happening now.

On the flipside – safety – you can’t operate your teams without safe practices in place. So, the ‘old’ way of working on a fixed route can’t apply. Retail stores need to manage flow which means your visits may need to be scheduled in a tighter window, and it may vary from store-to-store and change weekly or daily. You may also need to track your team’s use of PPE, etc.

CGT: How has data enabled some CG companies to not just survive but rather thrive during the disruption?

Billante: Because the pandemic has changed buying behaviors, certain products have sold out much more quickly than others. People are “stocking up” much more often because they’re not eating out, or going out at all. Everyone’s aware of the stories about out-of-stocks (OOS) for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but there have been OOS in other categories including things like frozen pizzas, hair coloring products, paper towels, and more. OOS have been the biggest change in the deployment of REX teams. It has always been important, but it jumped up the list of problems for these teams to solve.

So, if you’re using your field team to address your OOS products, how do you know what products are actually OOS? Do you know it at the store-level? By week? Or Daily? Is it an OOS or distribution void? This is a hard problem to solve. But, if your team has this data, they can change the game and make better decisions.

Market Recon, a large Canadian merchandiser and Repsly client, saw that in down times when its team was limited to access with certain retailers, this was a good time to increase its audits and help guide its clients’ SKU strategy. For example, its reps saw that their client’s competition was constantly out of stock on a certain SKU. So, they reported this back to their client, and the client increased production on the SKU to take advantage of the market share opportunity, winning more space at the shelf. This was only possible because real-time OOS field data was coming back live to the client.

Overall, they saw that through their technology and training, they had a multi-faceted field team who could be the eyes and ears of corporate on the ground to capitalize on market share opportunities; field teams were able to help clients gain market share through real-time feedback on OOS, competitive insights, and opportunities at the shelf.

Visit frequency and coverage modeling: What stores are you not visiting? Do you know why? What’s the trend? The best teams will know this and track it closely. Static routes are history. Look at all of your territories each week and make adjustments based on new information.

In-store actions: How quickly can you assess what’s happening in stores, and then deploy a new program to address it? Months? Weeks? Days?  If your team is in-store, how quickly can they perform their tasks and move on? Retailers don’t want people in their stores for long periods, if possible. Can you scan barcodes of shelf-tags? Can you take photos rapidly? If you’re a regional sales manager with a team of 20+ reps working for you, how fast can you scan a feed of imagery coming back from your key accounts and communicate actions? Instantly?

Another Repsly client and large juice company in Canada, quickly pivoted and rolled out multi-packs based on real-time in store buying feedback from its reps and feedback on what was a clear opportunity. They changed their product roadmap and put this multi-pack into play, which led them to drive overall revenue gains as a result. They were so successful, that another Canadian health food brand asked the juice company to handle its merchandising as well.

CGT: What’s the biggest trend you expect in REX tech for 2021?

Billante: Years ago, using near-real time business intelligence-style analytics to track your in-store execution alongside point-of-sale (POS) transactional data for sell through was seen as an advanced approach for teams looking to optimize or gain competitive advantage. Those teams were able to adjust plans on the fly to better service their markets.

In 2021, that trend is becoming mainstream for some products to survive and thrive. Each visit is going to become more critical, so understanding how to communicate with your field teams, what they need to do, must be based on the best information you have at the time – including not only what you’re observing on the shelf, but the stream of POS data you can access from your customers to spot trends or problems in advance. What makes this possible is that brands or merchandisers, of any size, can now get access to both sales and in-store execution data to make better decisions.

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