Heath HeadshotRetailers are feeling building pressure to meet the demands of customers who expect the latest and greatest at all times. Technology can assist in this effort by reducing lead-time between buying and delivery and providing brands with insightful data about their customers. By Heath Wells

As e-commerce grows, consumers are becoming more and more accustomed to needs instantly being met. Customers want the latest and greatest home décor, sporting equipment, footwear, strollers, and they want it now. One industry exemplifying this retail shift is fashion.

In today’s competitive retail environment, traditional retailers must be empowered to keep pace with the “fast fashion” that consumers crave. Fast fashion is the ability to go from design to in-store in as short an amount of time as possible in order to keep up with constantly shifting consumer preferences while maintaining a consistent turnover of inventory.

Retailers including Zara and H&M have set the precedent in the retail industry and rely on the fast fashion business model, spotting trends and producing them as quickly as possible. Forrester research explains that this accelerated introduction of short-life items, based on current trends rather than dictated by seasons, drives more intense customer engagement in all retail sectors. In order to successfully achieve this type of quick inventory turnover, brands must be able to produce and sell out product effectively, while buyers must have the ability to discover product and make purchases on a regular basis.

The move from seasonal to real-time planning

Technology allows brands to streamline business operations and improve communication with manufacturers and retailers, reducing the lead time between buying and delivery. Traditional brands sell product pre-season, often at tradeshows or showrooms, but this doesn’t work for this new retail model.

By relying on tradeshows, retailers are limiting their discovery of new brands and products to once or twice a year, leaving plenty of time for trends to come and go. Additionally, retailers don’t want to risk committing to a product so far ahead of season and prefer to make more frequent orders to reduce inventory risks. Shifting this discovery and purchasing process online means placing smaller orders more often and more quickly, in-season rather than pre-season, reducing time between discovery and getting the product on the shelf. 

Additionally, traditional fashion brands often sell from printed catalogs, take handwritten orders, and manually enter them into a tracking system. Even when buying does happen in-season rather than pre-season, these process inefficiencies can prevent retailers from getting the right inventory into their stores at the right time.

With this manual process, brands may overlook or underutilize valuable product and inventory data, which can be helpful for sales and trend identification. This outdated process also means that not all data is integrated. With sales history, inventory, and planning data all stored in different places, the selling process is naturally slower. Brands should be able to feed sales, e-commerce channels and retailers a live and accurate product catalog, including inventory positions.

Retailers should rely on their brands for this live, accurate data. Understanding brand inventory allows retailers to maximize every customer opportunity while minimizing stock outs.

Looking ahead

In 2018 and ahead, this instant-gratification model will be an expectation for both retailers and consumers across the retail landscape. In fashion, we can expect to see more brands entering the arena, like Amazon, who recently launched the line “Find” in the UK, which is poised to compete directly with H&M and Zara. Brands that don’t typically deliver fast fashion will use technology to manage inventory and sales, allowing them to join in and more quickly meet demands.

But this model certainly isn’t limited to fashion. We’ll see more and more retailers across sectors who will participate in trend identification and in-season purchasing. As retailers and brands streamline processes through use of e-commerce platforms, both sides will rely more on data to ensure they’re on trend and prepared to meet customer demands.

As Forrester explains, retailers that diligently track transactions can analyze this data and use it to guide pricing and promotion tactics. Beyond this, they can analyze inventory data to learn more about customer preferences and apply these patterns to future trends.

There is an undeniable shift in the retail industry, and both brands and retailers are evolving to adapt to consumer expectations. Traditional retailers and brands are learning to leverage technology to streamline communication, inventory, and ordering processes in order to stay relevant and keep pace with ever-changing preferences.

Heath Wells is co-founder and co-CEO of B2B e-commerce platform NuORDER.

Zorn Retailers need to understand the causes behind burnout and how they can combat these to improve customer service and their employees’ well being. By Mike Zorn

Every year, employee burnout strikes retail employees when they have exhausted their physical or emotional strength during the holiday season. This usually occurs as a result of prolonged stress or frustration, and often the cause is the work environment. Stressful jobs, lack of support and resources, feeling unappreciated, and tight deadlines can all contribute to burnout. Other times, burnout has more to do with employees' expectations of themselves or their personal circumstances.

Burnout may also occur when employees are bored or depressed and under-stimulated. It can also be seen in employees that are fearful of losing their job, insecure about their level of work, or are unclear about job expectations. Regardless, it’s important for retailers to understand the signs and causes behind burnout in the retail industry, as well as how they can combat these to improve customer service and, moreover, their employees’ well-being.

What are some of the most common signs of employee burnout? How can retailers identify these in their workforce?

Some of the common signs of burnout are unexplained absences from work or other attendance issues, decreased productivity or quality of work, obvious frustration or temperament at work including increased complaining, decline in health, or lack of engagement or motivation at work. 

The impacts of burnout are also felt by employees’ peers and can impact team dynamics and camaraderie. Additionally, another less direct is the impact it has on the employee’s family; in turn, that leads to greater stress and burnout at work as part of a burnout cycle. 

Why is this especially common for retail associates during the holiday season? What other industries might experience this?

The intensity of the effort needed to prepare for the holiday, the long hours during the holidays, and the necessary level of physical and mental activity to meet customer demand all increase the potential for retail associates to experience burnout. This may also surface in the hospitality industry, the culinary industry, as well as any industry or company that is not sensitive to the needs of its associates and don’t work with them to minimize potential burnout.

Many experts would suggest that burnout is a company issue, rather than an employee issue. Companies that are aware of their workplace’s demands and the always-on digital world of work can support their associates and help avoid the negative impact of burnout. Working to develop a positive, employee-first company culture that supports a more disciplined work environment can help reduce burnout.

NRF predicts that retail sales will reach about $682 billion this season. With this number up significantly from last year, how can retailers prepare for a rise in demand now (to avoid burnout later)?

As is commonly said, preparation is 90 percent of the act. Retailers should ensure that plans are in place and communicated to all that need to know, and that regular associates have the opportunity to work and have some control over when they can’t work. Openly recognize and acknowledge the challenges and the importance of their work. Emphasis the positive and downplay the negative.

Communicate regularly and clearly the expectations and listen to feedback from the field what is working and what is not—this can be done both in person and via digital workplace platforms. Encourage stress relievers for employees by finding some time for fun, and encourage them to get away from the store on breaks by taking walks and relaxing.

By assigning tasks that meet the abilities and capabilities without overdoing it, fairly distributing the workload, and keeping track of employees’ mental well-being, employers can avoid burnout and boost customer service.

Mike Zorn is the vice president of workplace strategy for WorkJam. In his role, he works with client companies to develop strategies, using the WorkJam Digital Workplace, to empower and engage their hourly workforce.

Brian BaileyWhile cash may not always be the most-preferred payment option in all scenarios, it resiliently remains the most commonly used form of payment, and there are many instances where it is still exactly the way people want to pay. By Brian Bailey

Americans generally do not like being told what to do or how to think. And based on the results of the 2017 Health of Cash Study – a Cardtronics collaboration with independent research company Edelman Intelligence – they aren’t interested in being told how to pay, and will likely push back on retailers’ cashless experiments which eliminate freedom of payment choice.

While many consumers are indeed adding smartphone-driven digital pay options into their payments toolbox, cash continues to resonate with American consumers, who show little interest in being ‘all in’ with cashless, or having their choices limited in any way.

Cash’s Enduring Role in a Digital World

Contradicting an assumption that cash is fading away in the digital age, the Health of Cash Study reveals that not only do consumers continue to use cash, but in fact cash remains the most commonly used payment method by a comfortable margin, used by nine out of 10 consumers in the past six months, and by 80 percent on a monthly basis.

Indeed, the data is clear that cash usage is woven deeply into the fabric of Americans’ payment behavior. When asked “Which is your most preferred payment method?” consumers selected cash as their second most-preferred method, at 27 percent, just behind debit cards at 33 percent. Credit cards, digital and checks rounded out the list with 22 percent, 15 percent, and 3 percent, respectively.

And the most preferred way to pay for millennials? Cash, at 29 percent, followed in a close grouping by debit card (26 percent), digital (25 percent), then credit card (17 percent) and finally checks (3 percent). Yes; you read that right. Millennials’ most preferred way to pay is cash.

Why Cash Endures – Three Key Truths

The Health of Cash survey results suggest there are three key truths that guide consumers in their payment decisions. Despite the rise of digital payments, people don’t think cash is going away, and they aren’t longing for a cashless future because they value cash’s unique attributes against the backdrop of all three truths.

Truth One: American Consumers Embrace Freedom of Payment Choice

The idea that consumers want to be limited to cashless payments is not consistent with consumer behavior. Consider: 89 percent of people like having the ability to use a variety of payment methods; 90 percent of consumers use at least two payment methods a month; and 82 percent of people would miss cash if it went away altogether.

What’s more, and regardless of their personal payment preference, 61 percent of consumers admit they get upset when establishments don’t accept cash – and among millennials there’s an uptick to 68 percent.

Truth Two: Exchanging money should be convenient, safe/secure, easy to use & (at times) private

Consumers want their preferred payment method to be both convenient and easy to use, and they feel most payment methods deliver those attributes to varying degrees. However, when the choice of ‘how to pay’ hinges on safety and privacy, cash clearly separates from the payments pack - most notably on privacy (e.g. doesn’t track purchase behavior) – a benefit that cashless cannot deliver. Cash is identified as the safest (48 percent of survey respondents) and most private (60 percent) way to pay.

Truth Three: Payment options should empower financial well-being and inclusion

Concerning financial well-being, the Health of Cash Study finds consumers agree that cash is a great way to control spending and maintain a budget. In fact, consumers believe cash is the single-best payment method to help keep them from overspending. Cash was selected by 47 percent of consumers; debit was second place at 23 percent.

As payment types relate to societal inclusiveness, the Health of Cash Study findings paint a clear picture of a segment of society disadvantaged in a cashless America focused on digitizing all transactions and financial services. As reported by the FDIC, approximately 33.5 million U.S. households are either underbanked or unbanked, and largely disconnected from the traditional banking system.

Digital-only retail and payment environments often exclude these Americans, whereas cash is universal within our society. Having a smartphone is one thing; having a smartphone AND the banking relationship necessary to load a mobile wallet with a debit or credit card is quite another. When the Health of Cash survey asked for all payment methods, “Is everyone able to use this?” 94 percent responded positively to cash, compared to 67 percent for credit, 73 percent for debit and 66 percent for mobile wallets.

Let the People Decide

The 2017 Health of Cash Study continues to underscore the falsity of the cashless America narrative. While cash may not always be the most-preferred payment option in all scenarios, it resiliently remains the most commonly used form of payment, and there are many instances where it is still exactly what people want, and precisely the way they want to pay.

Indeed, there is compelling evidence that cash has formed a durable and enduring bond with American consumers.

Brian Bailey is Managing Director - North America for Cardtronics, the world’s largest ATM owner / operator. A global financial services technology executive with domain expertise in the consumer transaction technology sector, Mr. Bailey has deep knowledge of retail financial services with a unique view of the changing consumer at the intersection of technology, regulation and omni-channel expectations. 

NF These tips will help retailers up their game and provide customer service that will generate holiday sales and repeat customers in the New Year. By Nancy Friedman

The holidays are fast approaching. Few times are more important for franchise owners. The holidays cannot only make your financial year a huge success, but it’s also a prime opportunity to gain new customers who will return year-round.

However, if your employees fail at customer service and are not helpful, knowledgeable, or unpleasant, you not only lose customers and lose future sales, but you also risk the chance of getting slammed on social media. So what can owners and managers do to encourage excellent customer service during the holiday season?

Here are five tips that will help up your game and provide customer service that will generate holiday sales and repeat customers in the New Year.

1. Start some sort of training now, before the holiday shoppers arrive. If you have some customer service training in place, review with your employees and those seasonal workers you are hiring for the holidays. If you don’t have a customer service plan in place, hire an experienced expert to spend a day training your staff. And if you have no time to train, remind your employees that “thank you for shopping with us”; or “we appreciate your business” or “have a wonderful holiday” go a long way, costs nothing and leaves a positive lasting impression.

2. Meet with your staff at the end of each day. Discuss what went wrong and what went right. Make sure any customer service concerns are addressed immediately and solutions are made so customers walk away satisfied.

3. Prepare your employees with a “mental” suit of armor. Make sure they are aware all customers won’t be so nice and some will be difficult. Your employees will be on the front lines of occasional customer abuse. Warn them in advance, and make sure that when those incidents happen that your employees will still treat the customer with politeness and respect. We all know the customer isn’t always right. But they remain the customer.

4. Your employees need to care. While knowledge of a product is important, it’s just as vital that your sales people show they care, and want to help the customer with a purchase. A friend of mine went into a restaurant only to find the hostess busy texting. She was more concerned with her phone than properly greeting the diner. Not good! Greet each customer as if they were bringing a million dollars of business to your store.

5. The most important customer service win: smile! Don’t let your employees greet shoppers without a smile. A smile leaves a positive, friendly first impression.

As the holidays quickly approach, in addition to hiring seasonal workers and planning for big sales, also remember that if you don’t provide excellent customer service and leave a pleasant experience with your customers, you’ll lose an opportunity to gain and retain valued customers forever.

Nancy Friedman is one of the country’s top customer service experts and president of St. Louis-based The Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training Inc. Friedman helps businesses improve their consumer relations by training them to communicate better with their customers and co-workers.

Monoprice was founded in 2002 with one goal in mind: to sell premium products at an affordable price. Founder Seong Hong found success by eliminating layers of markup within the supply chain and selling products in a direct-to-consumer model via its website. Read more about the company here and see some of its new and notable products below.

Monoprice NN 1MP Select Mini 3D Printer

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Monoprice NN 2Select Series 3.1 USB-C to USB-C Gen 2 Cables

Connect USB Type-C phones, laptops and more with the Select Series USB 3.1 Gen 2 compatible cable. This USB-IF Certified cable can deliver up to 5 amps of charging power and has 10 Gbps data bandwidth. Lifetime warranty. ($8.99-9.99)

Monoprice NN 3Select Series Power Banks

Select Series Power Banks provide the power you need to keep your devices charged on the go. Available in 2,000 mAh to 27,200 mAh and 10,000 mAh USB-C. ($6.99-$34.99)

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Monoprice NN 525 Watt Stereo Hybrid Tube Amplifier with Bluetooth

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The Monolith amplifier series are state-of-the-art, high-performance, audiophile-grade components. Rated at a full 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 300 watts per channel into 4 ohms, the Monolith amplifiers are capable of driving the most demanding home theater systems. Available in 2, 3, 5 and 7 channel. ($999.99-$1,499.99) 

Monoprice NN 10M1060 Planar Headphones

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See more new & notable products here. 

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