Suppliers must put themselves into a buyer's shoes when it comes to retail

Sarah Windham-Luck
posted by Sarah Windham-Luck
29 September 2014

Sarah Windham-Luck The pressure on buyers within the retail sector to procure the right products and services in a timely manner has never been greater.

Suppliers therefore have to push themselves as hard as possible when it comes to supporting this need, not least by ensuring that their account management teams have the skills required to anticipate the needs of specific target customer groups. Previous experience in the retail sector is a vital element of being able to source the products and services that meet the needs of retailers at the right time.  

Let’s face it, retailers are exposed to many variables, and certain products or services may need to be supplied at a moment’s notice. The weather, unplanned mid-season promotions, wider trends that affect the popularity of certain products and fast-moving trends all play a daily role in governing the content and layout of a store.

Buyers and procurement managers in the retail sector are under increasing pressure to immediately deliver against these variables. Suppliers therefore need to be prepared to fit around the methodology that retailers use to make sure the right inventory is in place at the right time. Suppliers that fail to do this are at risk of being squeezed out of a competitive market.

There is simply no longer space for suppliers that put their own needs ahead of their customers by concentrating on trying to browbeat retailers into purchasing stock that they, the suppliers, have a particular interest to sell. Buyers in the retail sector are under pressure to drive more value out of their supply chain relationships than ever before, so suppliers have to be poised to proactively help them achieve this.  

Working for four years as a store manager has taught me that without first-hand knowledge of the workings of an efficient retail shop floor, a supplier simply doesn’t have the insight required to properly service and anticipate what will be required and when. Previous sector experience, as well as recognising the importance of timing, must therefore be combined with an intimate knowledge of a specific retailer’s store dynamics and customer groups. 

Account managers being deployed by suppliers must, therefore, be able to draw on essential retail experience in order to more readily understand the needs of this customer base. However, this level of insight must be combined with 360 degree efforts by suppliers to put themselves under the same constraints as their retail customers, in order to help in meeting fast-moving and immediate customer demands. 

☛ Sarah Windham-Luck is director of retail at Office Depot.

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