Retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, and others, are increasingly replacing chief merchants with executives who put more trust in algorithms, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.
Well designed software can greatly help with the retail supply chain and incorporate customer reactions to buying decisions about what products to put on shelves.
But some retail experts tell Retail Dive that the practice can go too far, rendering retailers overly risk-averse and dependent on data.
Mark Cohen, professor of retail studies at Columbia University, has told Retail Dive that many of today’s retailers, including department stores, could use the creativity of the old-fashioned chief merchants.
But, whereas the Wall Street Journal paints the trend away from that approach as a possible generational shift, Cohen sees much of that old-fashioned creativity increasingly in younger, more innovative retailers—the very retailers that also often have a good handle on data.
“The really talented and effective merchants know how to create great value,” he says. “There aren't as many people like that around. The antidote is and always has been creativity. We will not stop consuming things that we feel we must have. The folks who play to that really well are increasingly young, innovative organizations, with a mix of e-commerce and physical stores, along with the Amazons who have consolidated it all.”
As many large retailers are making the monumental supply chain changes in their shift to an omnichannel environment, the focus on data may be warranted. But the question is what to do with all that data.
“Everybody has data,” Brett Wickard, founder of “lean retail” software company FieldStack, told Retail Dive. “Using it is the hard part.”