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A merchandise planner makes the merchandise strategy for a store, determining what to buy, when, and how to display it. This job position requires good communication and business skills and has room for advancement, especially at companies with chains of stores. It is usually necessary to have a bachelor's degree in merchandising or a related field, although some employers accept associate's degrees. Typically three to five years of retail experience is also a job requirement, to make sure the applicant is familiar with the retail environment.
The merchandise planner must keep up with emerging trends, and needs to know the market well. In addition to following fashion and making sure she knows what kinds of products will be in demand, the planner also needs to think about the demographics of a store or chain of stores. Needs can vary by region, as well; clothes shipped to a New York City branch of a store, for example, may be different than those shipped to a Midwestern city like Minneapolis, because the fashions will be different.
Merchandise planners work with merchandise buyers to find out what is available and make decisions about orders. They decide how much to order and when to schedule deliveries, to make sure items arrive on time. They can also organize store displays and plan out the arrangement of aisles and items in the store. The goal is to appeal to customers with the store's organization, by doing things like positioning related items near each other to encourage people to buy them.
The merchandise planner must keep up with sales performance at individual stores to identify strong and weak points and make adjustments to the merchandise at that store accordingly. Different branches may sell different mixes of items, and it is important to be able to move merchandise to meet the need. One store may constantly sell out of sunglasses, for example, while another has relatively low demand. Sending the exact same merchandise to each store would not be practical.
At major stores, the merchandise planner can be a trend setter, as well as react to trends. They work with trend spotters and designers to identify newly emerging trends and move on them quickly. This makes customers feel like the store is in tune with the trends, leading to increased loyalty, and will also help the store get a jump on the market. The merchandise planner might, for example, get an advance contract on scarves, aware that everyone will be wanting them in six months, driving up the price and potentially outstripping production abilities. Their store may be able to offer scarves when others can't get them, and can provide them at a lower price because of their original agreement with the manufacturer.