When you’re caught up in the daily duties of running a business, it’s easy to forget that retail is, at its essence, simply an inventory-driven business of supply and demand. It’s just as important for you to stay up on the trends in your industry as it is to stay abreast of the new tech. With that in mind, we invited Jasmine Glasheen of Retail Minded to share her recommendations on becoming more of an expert on your customers’ favorite products and enticing them with new products.

Invest in consumer research

“Consumer research is a budget-friendly alternative for retailers who want to stay on top of happenings in their industry, but prefer not to shell out the big bucks for a trend report,” advises Glasheen. “Roll calls on social media, email surveys, written articles and in-person discussions are all great ways to gather information on what type of merchandise your customers will be hunting for in the coming season. Research trendsetters and influencers in your industry on social media for guidance on where the media is directing your customers’ attention.”

Do more than just stock your favorite brands

“Assuming you got into your specific niche in retail because you’re passionate about the type of products you sell, the challenge then becomes how to tailor that passion to suit the tastes of your target customer,” Glasheen says. “When retailers only stock up on products suited to their specific tastes, they are making a big mistake that can lead to a lot of dead (unsellable) inventory. I got the opportunity to see this firsthand when working with first-time retailers at [a recent show], many of which had to learn the hard way not to stock their shelves with the items that they liked personally.”

When retailers only stock up on products suited to their specific tastes, they are making a big mistake that can lead to a lot of dead (unsellable) inventory.

Review customer feedback to buy the right merch

“Of course, a big part of the vibe of any brand is the taste of its proprietor, but in order for your store to achieve success, you need to go beyond the clothes, food or window treatments that you like and also take into consideration the buying preferences of your target customer,” Glasheen cautions.

“Ask customers for feedback on your inventory selection by following up on their purchase and in-store experience with an email list the can sign up for at checkout. If you’re tech-savvy, this can also mean using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to track consumer preferences to forecast future sales.”

As intimidating as it may sound, ‘trend forecasting’ is just an industry term for putting in the necessary research to catch on to trends before they become widespread.

Pick up on industry trends before they catch on

“Predicting what customers may be drawn to in the coming season is a risky business, leading many retailers to invest in trend forecasts from industry leaders,” says Glasheen. “As intimidating as it may sound, ‘trend forecasting’ is just an industry term for putting in the necessary research to catch on to trends before they become widespread.

“Not just relegated to textiles and apparel, trend forecasting also can be used to determine what foods, destinations and even technologies will be en vogue in the coming season. Many companies — such as Fashion Snoops, The Doneger Group and Pantone — are completely devoted to the fine art of predicting what’s about to happen, but they often charge heavily for their exclusive insights. As a result, price-conscious retailers (and what retailer isn’t price-conscious?) might need a more economical method of scouting out what’s about to be ‘in’ their industry. This could include doing some of your own trend research on social media, as well as reading leading industry publications for your retail niche.”

Learn what’s working (and what isn’t)

“Beyond researching what trends are of interest to your target demographic, you also need a solid understanding of how those trends tie in to your existing inventory,” shares Glasheen. “For instance, if you own a small boutique in Tennessee that sells apparel targeted towards female customers aged 45-60, and you’ve determined that next season white denim is going to be all the rage, you’ll want to take a look at how white denim has performed in your store over the past few years before you load up on the trend to ensure that type of inventory actually appeals to your customers.”

Gauge the potential for future sales by tracking where your customers spend the most time and weigh it against current trends and past purchases.

Kill it next season by digging into data now

“Are you ready to learn the great caveat to inventory forecasting that so many retailers miss out on?” asks Glasheen. “Here it is.

“Even if your customers haven’t bought a certain type of inventory in the past — for instance, white jeans in the above example — you can gauge the potential for future sales by tracking where your customers spend the most time and weighing it against current trends and past purchases.

“Say your sales of white denim have were lukewarm in the past, but customers went out of their way to visit your white denim selection even though it was housed in a low-traffic area. This means that consumer interest in the item is such that the added push of white jeans being in fashion for your target customer could result in their becoming your store’s hot ticket item in the coming season!”

Thank you to Jasmine for sharing her inventory self-checkup tips! Catch her on Twitter or on RetailMinded.com.

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