Big Bang - it’s a Thang!

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We are probably all familiar with the Big Bang theory of evolution.

Restated in novice (likely inaccurate terms) - a random collection of unrelated stuff coming together and transforming into something meaningful.

Here follows a recent experience which prompted me to consider a Big Bang model of consumer behaviour.


First, some confessions, relevant for context.

Personally, I am what is called an SMG (social media ghost – now who’s impressed?).

I’ve often joked that my lack of social media activity is so contrary to the “reason for being” of these platforms that I’m surprised my login hasn’t been revoked.

I was “activated” for business reasons.  I’m on most platforms now, and feel convincingly part of the crowd – swiping, scrolling and double tapping like the best of them.

Again, personally, I’m also not a big shopper.  I’ve coined my own style as “non committal” – so while I like and appreciate many, many lovely things, this doesn’t often translate to a “shopping event”.

These are important insights, as they go directly to the apparent randomness of this customer experience virtual tour…


Out of professional interest, I follow my clients and other businesses on Instagram. Among them is the full house belonging to a large footwear group.

While scrolling Instagram, a pair of sneakers / trainers / street footwear (insert your preferred terminology) caught my eye, and triggered my dormant shopper instincts.  I decided to check them out IRL when next at my local shopping centre (no, the pull was not that strong that I would have made a special trip).

[catalyst combo #1 :   Instagram + mild consumer interest + aesthetic / visual impact]

On no less than 4 occasions I perused the window display, or scooted around the store, trying to spot the shoes that had lured me in via Instagram.  But no luck;  they were never in stock.  I was deliberately too quick to be offered assistance, and truthfully, I wasn’t committed to the search – it was not a priority.

Enter Achilles tendon injury.  After ignoring my situation for 6 months, I was threatened by the doctor with cortisone injections and the possibility of my tendon snapping.  Suddenly desperate for alternatives, I considered changing my footwear.

My association of a particular footwear brand to comfort, support and technical features, and the appeal of something more stylish than a moonboot, drew me back to the footwear group previously mentioned.

[catalyst combo #2 :   pain + fear + technical need + vanity + branding awareness + style]

There I was, back in the shopping centre, circling a cluster of footwear stores. I finally entered THE store again.

At the same time my husband was updating his leisure footwear, at a next door store.  No surprise he knew what he wanted (repeat purchase), bought it with no fuss and made his way across to join me - which increased my time in the store (no more dodging sales assistants).

[catalyst combo #3 :   efficient shopping habits (him) + increased dwell time (me) ]

And this is where we meet Ben, sales associate extraordinaire.  He brought every skill possible to the interaction – product knowledge, technical expertise, people skills, and endless patience.  I no longer needed to be committed to the process, he had enough commitment for both of us.  Without being pushy he worked his way through close on 12 different styles and sizes to find me exactly what I needed.

He built a relationship, he built trust.  I felt valued and understood;  it was all about me.

And importantly – the product I wanted (but never previously knew I did) was in stock!

[catalyst combo #4 :   uber skills + patience + trust + being in-stock + personalisation]

And so it came to pass, that Ben sold me a pair of shoes;  and I was so set on my favourite new brand, that I sold my husband another pair of shoes.

I was reassured that if I wasn’t absolutely happy with my purchases I could return them;  even the socks! Yes, I was upsold to buying socks.

I left the store with a literal spring in my step, and a lifelong trust of the brand.

We even took my UK in-laws back a month later, and they bought 2 more pairs of trainers. 

So let’s see – that’s 4 pairs of trainers, from one store, in 2 months, plus the pair from the store next door (same footwear group).  Not bad transaction, acquisition and retention stats.


Now the “movie montage” style recap of this shopping experience, to arrive at what motivated me.  What drove this chain reaction of wild consumer behaviour?

  • Professional interest (I started on Instagram)

  • Aesthetic appeal (I saw something I liked)

  • Convenience (I was already there, the shoe was is stock)

  • Need (physical fit, function over form – though I got both)

  • Emotions (fear, desperation, followed by trust and reassurance)

  • Service (technical and people skills)


Examining all these linkages, challenges my big picture thinking as to what’s really behind a sale, and how much can we control?

A digital whim, connected to a deep seated brand impression, led to a high touch interaction, which translated to a multiple sale, and long term brand conversion.

The entire experience was woven with fine threads, and the smallest slip up would have seen me slip away again (likely destined for a moonboot).


And so, after dragging you through the shopping centre with me, we arrive at my point – every step and every interaction had to be right. 

Retail is rife with trends and innovations;  there’s talk of tough times, and equally of soaring successes.   True to its core however, Retail remains dynamic and competitive.  It demands that we do everything to serve our customer, and do it all well, because there’s a lot of random chance involved. 

CX, last mile, advertising, social media, in stock positions, top service, personalisation - you name it - each on its own is not necessarily enough. 

Call it serendipity or coincidence – or something more digitally appropriate and engineered - it feels a lot like the Big Bang theory to me…

Big Bang – it’s a thang!

Disclaimer:  Names may have been changed to protect the identities of actual persons and stores (or not).

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The End is the Beginning

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At this pivotal time, one of the most powerful factors influencing how the new financial year will start, is how this financial year is going to end.


The closing stock of one time period becomes the opening stock of the next.

This means that how we finish up FY19 is vitally important to how we start FY20;

and how we finish FY19 is directly linked to what we do right now.


Time is of the essence to understand:

  • What is the profile of your stock?

  • What is the health of your stock?

  • What are the levels of your stock?

  • What are the risk and opportunities inherent in your stock?


And I don’t just mean what your stock looks like right NOW, I mean that you should have a very clear view (right now) of what your stock WILL look like, as at June 30th …

This is the time continuum in which Planners must function;  simultaneously operating in the reality of today, pulling levers to influence an anticipated future state, and navigating the ever changing path between now and then.

This is a critical Merchandise Planning concept

“The end is the beginning”

 We are already writing the reality of the next 6 to 9 months, and we have the ability to influence, even design, that reality.

What would you design?  Leaner stock levels to drive an equivalent sales outcome? A more profitable result through better margin management?  What are your pain points (pain habits) that sneak up on you year after year, and why?

The solution requires taking a pre-emptive and long range view – understanding that stock flow from one period into the next is continuous;  understanding which metrics to focus on when, and how to impact them.

The way to assess and influence this is through:

  • the visibility created by a Merchandise Plan

  • leveraging the Merchandise Planning framework, and

  • understanding, monitoring and driving the right KPIs


I’m often asked which metrics or KPIs are most important, and the truth is that I don’t believe in looking at anything in isolation.

Assuming a robust sales and margin plan, the stock related metrics in a Merchandise Plan should give you a really good idea of what lies ahead -

  • Closing stock positions, referenced against targets and previous relevant time periods

  • Forward Weeks of Cover, with meaningful comparison points and understanding of business context

  • Full price and aged stock mixes

  • Seasonal vs core line mixes

  • Closing stock margins, and

  • Freshness %

These are a few of my favourite things …. in particular the last two.

Taken together, I have found Closing Stock Margins and Freshness % to be extremely reliable in predicting the ability to achieve forecast margin levels.

Capture actual performance into the Merchandise Plan and compare to what you set out to achieve.

What are the numbers telling you now? 

Planning, by definition, is only a “plan”.  The end point is moving, which means the starting point is moving, so we must keep revisiting and realigning.

Deviations from the plan, don’t necessarily mean it can’t be achieved;  perhaps just not in the way you originally thought.  That’s where determination, collaboration and innovation, come into play. 

Knee jerk reactions too close to EOFY - a singular focus on a particular number in isolation of others, last minute attempts to clean stock and close with an acceptable figure on the books - can be costly, and sadly, repetitive.

It takes both expertise and time to alter the profile and health of stock, and maintain margin in the process. 

However once you know where you are, and where you are heading, you are in a stronger position to course correct and drive the required outcome.

Back in my university days, we had our own version of “The 5 P’s”, which wraps up the concept quite simply: “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance” (our uni version was slightly less suitable for a professional platform and included an extra P to drive home the message of just how bad that performance might be).

In other words …

“The unlock lies in timing”

Despite my insistence on starting the process early, I’ll re-emphasise the importance of staying nimble. 

Given the connected and continuous nature of stock management, it is clear that this is anything but a “set and forget” situation.  Every decision, every change, whether planned or spontaneous, is impacting the future position. 

Retail is dynamic, and the Plan should be too

Now you know why, and you know how -

Are you setting yourself up for a head start or a false start in FY20?

Make FY20 a year of Plenty

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Now that we’ve settled down to a panic since my last blog topic, we can start to consider what needs to happen before the end of this financial year.

Review is a good place to start – an assessment of past performance to gain insights and learnings. What I’ve observed is how many businesses do this step, tick the box and leave it there, without actively translating it into a Preview – an extrapolation of those insights, combined with direction, interpreted into a strategy.


The importance of a clearly defined strategy is not news, and there’s no shortage of models and education on the subject, including the time honoured “begin with the end in mind” from Stephen Covey.  

The concept I want to emphasise here is the causality …

“The Merchandise Budget is a financial expression of the business strategy; 

the Merchandise Plan is a dynamic version of the Merchandise Budget”

They start out the same, and the plan is updated regularly with course corrections to maximise opportunities and mitigate risks based on new information as the business trades.

It is the roadmap by which we navigate our way back to achieving the Budget, or better.  

Therefore, if the original strategy is absent or lacking, the foundations of the entire Planning framework from Budget through to Merchandise Plan could be unstable.  For all the learnings that may have been gleaned in a post seasonal review, the business will still not be set up for success.  

The very deliberate link from Review into Preview is vital

Here are some perspectives and ponderings for tackling the Review-Preview stages.

I often imagine the review through the lens of twisting a Rubik’s Cube. There’s a big box of data that’s available, and you manipulate it over and over again, considering it from multiple different angles, in varying combinations and see what you find.  There’s an element that’s predictable, because there are standard things that should be reviewed; and there’s an element of discovery, because it’s only once you see the data arranged that way, that the learning emerges and takes you deeper down a line of exploration and enquiry.  It’s often here that the ah-ha moments reside. There’s merit in being clear on what you’re looking for, and not going down too many rabbit holes.  There’s also a risk in doing the activity on auto pilot and missing the signs. The skill lies in finding the balance between trend vs detail, and identifying what’s truly relevant at each of these levels.

Throughout the review, root cause thinking is a critical success factor

This is where the quantitative data is elevated to the qualitative realm.  The genuine understanding of where you won and lost, supported by how and why, is what unlocks the transition into strategy, enabling you to own the learning, consider what you would do differently, and apply it forward.

I suggest being deliberate about …

  • Going beyond just WHAT you observe, and determining WHY it occurred.  

  • Being wholistic with your measures, considering Sales, Margin and Stock, and how they interrelate.  

  • Maintaining perspective around growth areas, while protecting your hard earned base.

  • Working collaboratively (Planning, Buying, Marketing, Production, Operations, Supply Chain) to find the story in the numbers, 

Of course, it’s good practice to bank as you go.  Form a habit of conducting Review-Previews promptly at the close of each relevant time period, while things are still fresh in your mind.  Build this into Department calendars for all functional teams.  This will help to:

  • spread the workload into more manageable bites 

  • preserve relevant IP as teams change over time, and 

  • facilitate root cause thinking, before the details inevitably fade into just numbers on a page

If “why” is the hashtag of Review thinking, then “how” is the hashtag of Preview thinking.

The below example gets its own pride of place. I’ve found it to be a common occurrence, and unfortunately a common pitfall.

A review reveals performance below target margins, with higher than planned markdowns.  So a decision is made to reduce markdowns next season.

On the surface, this makes sense;  we know that less markdowns are linked to higher profits.  But it’s not a straight forward cause and effect relationship, and the weakness is revealed in asking “how?”.  

How will the business go about reducing markdowns?

Through a change in product?  Through range rationalisation? Through a shift in price architecture?  Through buying less?  Through enhanced allocation and stock consolidation?

There is a myriad of ways to reduce markdowns.  To achieve the desired end, the business must first correctly identify that high markdowns were the problem (wholistic review), understand WHY this was the case (collaborative, cross functional root cause analysis), and put in place a clear strategy as to HOW this will be addressed going forward (preview with perspective).  Anything less is unlikely to produce the intended outcome.

If you aren’t already playing in this space, I encourage you to amp up your traditional post seasonal review, append a preview, and watch how this starts to knit together your pre-season and in-season efforts.

Make FY20 a year of Plenty

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FY20 Started 3 months ago!

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I hope this title freaked you out just a little bit;  gave you a fleeting sensation of “Sunday night feeling”.

Why?  Because I want you to win in FY20.  Perhaps enjoy a level of success you have not achieved before.  And that type of success requires action … now.  

Those who have worked with me in the past will know that I am a big believer in starting the Merchandise Planning budget process well in advance.  November is my preferred kick off, with ongoing review from there. 

Most often, however, I see businesses leaving their run too late, and a soul destroying cycle eventuates…

In the short term, familiar justifications perpetuate dealing with the urgent over the important

  • first comes all-consuming December trade,

  • then focus on end of season Sale,

  • then the flurry of new season launch. 

Before we blink Winter is over, it’s June Sale and the new financial year is here!

But instead of bursting across the line with focus, clarity and control, many businesses limp into the new year battered and bruised.  Stock positions are too unhealthy to profitably support the first few months’ sales, and there’s already an overstock looming in Q2. 

The new year has barely begun and the ominous question (that no one dares say out loud) starts to gnaw – can this budget even be achieved?

While a new year can mean a clean start when it comes to new year’s resolutions, the same is unfortunately not true here.  Everything won’t just fall into place because it’s the start of the year.  KPIs won’t suddenly switch trend lines overnight on the 30th of June.

What will make all the difference is what you DO NOW to lay the foundations for the best possible start to the new year.  That means influencing the trend line and stock health as you approach the end of this financial year.

We know this is true, and easily recognize it in other facets of life.

Take a sports analogy …  the season only starts on 1 July, but the team that will win is the one who trained in the off season, watched videos of their past matches, learned from their experiences, strategised, had the right players in the right positions, built their muscles and fitness, ate right, monitored their vital signs, showed discipline and focus, sold out to their goals, coordinated their efforts to leverage the power of the team – all well before running onto the pitch for the first game, well before the whistle sounds.

  • How does your pre-season regime look?

  • How do your vital signs look?

  • Would you rate yourself as a favourite for the win? 

If this topic isn’t at the top of your list, perhaps it’s time to re-prioritise to win. Run, don’t walk.

 Start early, stay dynamic

This checklist may help you get on the right path:


Have you conducted a thorough review (quantitative and qualitative) and taken learnings?

Have you assessed your stock health?


Do you have a strategy that everyone knows about, has bought into or contributed to, that is expressed financially in a Merchandise Plan?


Do you have the right expertise and capacity within the team to execute the strategy?

Merchandise Planning KPIs

Are you measuring and managing the critical KPIs that will position the business for an optimal transition to the new financial year?


Are you staying nimble and flexing your plan based on new information?

Make FY20 a year of Plenty

I'll be unpacking these checklist concepts in my next blog topics on "Planning Matters"

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Looking SMART at the NORA Solution Provider Excellence Awards


In this industry first event over 2,500 Retailers cast their votes in recognition of 135 Solution Providers, nominated across 34 award categories.

SMART IN PLANNING was nominated in 3 categories and we are beyond thrilled to have won 2 Awards, and have been finalists for a 3rd.

A massive thank you to all our amazing Clients who endorsed us with their vote.

These categories of BEST RETAIL INSIGHTS and BEST BUSINESS PROCESS OUTSOURCING go right to the heart of what we do.

We couldn't ask for a more meaningful validation of our contribution to the Retail Industry.

Beyond the votes and results themselves, the experience has been so uplifting with overwhelming messages of support, encouragement and appreciation coming from valued Clients and respected Colleagues.

SMART IN PLANNING is all about Merchandise Planning solutions for Retailers and Wholesalers - expert, tailored, flexible and accessible. That’s how we are changing the face of Planning in Australia.

Credit to the SMART IN PLANNING Team, who are so talented and passionate about Merchandise Planning.

Thanks to the NORA Network for playing such a pivotal role in the Retail community, and to the generous sponsors backing the event - Investec, Worldpay and Emailage.

Acknowledgment to all the businesses who participated in the awards and event, and importantly form the backbone for Retail in Australia.

View: LinkedIN Post #NORASPEAD2018

View: Inside Retail Article


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Merchandise Planning in focus with Paul Greenberg of NORA Network

Always a pleasure catching up with Paul Greenberg on the forward thinking initiatives that NORA Network is putting out into the Retailscape .

Ventured OUT of my comfort zone to do this video covering a topic that sits squarely IN my comfort zone #merchandiseplanning. SMART IN PLANNING provides solutions in “everything Merchandise Planning” – giving Retailers access to expertise and capacity through a flexible and tailored service.

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Inside Retail Interview – The Art of Buying

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It was my pleasure to be interviewed by Inside Retail on this topic.

What we do know is that Retail is diverse and dynamic in nature.

That’s why is takes a “special kind of crazy” to be in the Retail game (and we do love it!)

A common misconception, however, is that Merchandise Planning is a rigid, one size fits all discipline. Quite to the contrary, when Planning is done right, it understands and embraces the nuances of the underlying business model – even elevating the competitive edge through that point of difference.

Planning affords a framework for more informed decision making, as well as providing enhanced visibility, a measure of objectivity, and a glimpse at what may lie ahead (good, bad or ugly) - which allows for course correction to capitalise or avoid, as required.

This article from Inside Retail – The Art of Buying explores different buying approaches, with consideration given to the role that Planning can (should) play in partnership with a variety of models.

View Article: Inside Retail - The Art of Buying

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New Retail Series

What a privilege to be invited as the guest speaker for the pilot launch of the New Retail Series.

A collaboration between Skills IQ (previously Service Skills Australia), the Australian Retailers Association, and with input from the Retail Industry, this program is aimed at developing a much needed, nationally recognised qualification in Merchandise – including Merchandise Planning.


Developing and nurturing Planning talent has always been a passion of mine, and I was honoured to have my personal journey in Merchandise Planning put forward as an example of a successful career pathway for aspiring Planners.

Much of my career in Australia has been focused on “growing our own”, and I am delighted to be able to help shape a program so critical to the future of Australian Retail.

With so many bright eyes in the room, and such rich mentorship and support in the Retailers behind these participants, it’s clear a seed has been planted…

View Guest Speaker BIO:  Susan Martin

View Media Release:  Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Department of Education & Training


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