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Are merchandisers now data scientists? Q5 & AQUARetail, Retail Week Opinion

Recently Dan Upward our Global Head of Retail and Consumer Goods was asked by Retail Week for our Q5 "thoughts", in conjunction with AQUARetail, on the emerging trends in the Merchandising Function and effecting Merchandisers within the global retail market.

In an increasingly digital, omnichannel and global market Q5 are working with a number of global retailers and consumer goods organisations helping them identify what the most important levers are to pull and how best to navigate  their organisations successfully through the transformation.

There is not a day that goes by where we don’t hear the words ’transformation’, ‘digital’ and ‘omnichannel’ in the same sentence.

The emergence of new technological capabilities including AI, hyper-personalisation and the explosion of new data and channels, has led many to ask what this means for their organisations, people and internal functions and, specifically, for merchandising.

Data capture and analysis, driven by online and digital technology, is increasingly high-speed and automated.

With so much data available the skill is to have an accurate, real-time, single view and to present the data simply and drive action, rather than drowning in it or losing sight of the customer.

This increase in data begs the question of whether the merchandiser role is transforming into that of a ‘data scientist’ or ‘data analyst’.

Opportunities in online merchandising

Merchandising is undoubtedly becoming more analytical, and there is an increasing need to upskill and redefine what the measures of success or failure are in the online world.

The opportunities for merchandisers to trial products without the associated inventory costs, run larger ranges of product and all year round offerings, and respond to events, trends and regional and local variations are significant.

In addition, optimising social media as a channel, genuinely personalising and tailoring an individual customer or customer segment’s offer is enabling retailers to deliver customer propositions globally faster than ever before.

Many see the merchandiser role as being more commercial and having a greater understanding of digital than ever before.

In turn, that means that the function now involves much stakeholder management, liaising with data analytics, marketing and PR in addition to the usual partners across buying, design, finance, planning and distribution.

There is now more than ever a need for robust planning, budgeting and forecasting skills and the ability to join up with logistics, distribution and supply chain.

Ultimately those retailers who take advantage of the potential opportunities that the developing online world represents and who recruit and develop the most dynamic merchandising teams will succeed.

Where product decisions have historically been made by the designer-buyer-merchandiser triumvirate, in the online world the “customer voice” is starting to be heard much more clearly in the form of marketing, customer insight or social media representation within multi-disciplinary teams.

It will be within these retailers that we will see the future role and shape of merchandising emerge.

Mary Anderson-Ford is managing director of AQUARetail, merchandising recruitment specialists

Daniel Upward is head of retail at Q5, organisational design, change and strategy consultancy