It’s hard to summarize an event as rich as 2023 CMA | SIMA Conference: Activating Insights for a Dynamic Future, which recently took place in Vegas: 800+ participants, many discussions, and plenty of workshops plus an exhibition hall full of innovations related to category management.
So, instead of trying to summarize it all, I’ve decided to share my key learnings from the conference with a focus on space planning. A charter focused on space planning was started about a year ago inside the CMA. It’s growing in speed and ambition under the leadership of Flora Delaney. There are so many exciting things going on in this field that it’s definitely worth watching (if interested, check out https://spaceplanning.global/ ).
Space planning is a critical aspect of retail merchandising that requires careful consideration and attention to detail. Being floor planning, planogramming, or space analytics, space planners must ensure that products are displayed effectively and customers can easily find what they are looking for. However, there are several challenges associated with space planning that retailers must contend with, making it an exciting but complex field.
As covered in the “Space planning for non-professionals” session, one of the most significant challenges retailers face when it comes to space planning is managing conflicting requests from various stakeholders. Operations, category, and merchandising leadership often have different priorities (stock holding, assortment reduction, customer experience, etc.), which can make it challenging to come up with a cohesive plan.
The first step is defining categories. It is essential to start with an alignment on each category definition and which products belong in each category. It’s also essential to align on the core goals that we’re trying to achieve and to work as a team.
While theory and tools are helpful for space planning, walking the store is also crucial — both your own stores and competitor stores! It allows us to see firsthand how customers interact with products and what colleagues experience as potential difficulties. That way, we can visualize how the assortment is presented in a real environment.
Omnichannel retailing also brings new challenges. Online promotions delivered from the store can be a challenge, altering how space productivity is usually measured (with ‘real’ shoppers).
Another challenge retailers face is the disconnect between shopper insight teams and space planning teams. While shopper insights provide valuable information about customer behavior, it can be challenging to translate that information into actionable plans for space planning (or simply make it available to space planners).
Finally, there are several aspects of space planning that cannot be solved by planograms alone, such as how/where to integrate new segments or innovations into existing plans, where to integrate new signage/education material, how to improve adjacencies within a category but also across categories in the store or where to locate the customer service in store. This is particularly relevant to Amoobi as it is an area where we bring a lot of value.
Despite these challenges, several exciting technologies are emerging that can help space planners and category managers optimize their processes. For example, artificial intelligence can make decision-making on assortment more rapid by analyzing and making recommendations based on customer data. Examples were presented by Hivery in a session co-presented with Tyson as their AI platform provided Tyson with store-specific assortment recommendations. This allowed Tyson to focus on the top 150 stores where the change was going to deliver the biggest return.
Tools, like ShelfIQ (by Nuqleous), can speed up the process of building planograms for each store, though creating a personalized planogram for each store remains an (unrealistic) dream for now. We also observed multiple 3D/VR solutions (like Incontext or 345). A full virtual environment (digital twin) can enhance collaboration between teams and offers more flexibility. Can a fully virtual environment be realistic and compliant enough to be a useful tool in the future?
Many new solutions struggle to cope with the reality of the store: how to integrate the realogram (instead of theoretical planogram), how to deal with dual locations, and potential issues with the new products launched with an AI model built on past data.
Amoobi, with our in-store customer tracking solution, has an opportunity to transform space planning by using customer data to inform plans. While many solutions are still focused on legacy 1P data like sales, product, and space, incorporating customer data (like we do) provides critical insights into customer behavior and preferences — e.g., where shoppers stop, the sections jointly visited by shoppers, and the conversion of each section) — enabling you to make more informed decisions about space allocation in the store.
A brilliant future!
What’s next in Space Planning was discussed in the « State of Space Planning » Panel (Jenny Tornow, Chris DeFinizio, Kent Rodina and Flora Delaney). Looking to the future, space planners must develop skills to adapt to the changing retail landscape. Understanding operations, precision, an analytical mind, and even courage are among the skills space planners need to be successful as the field progresses. The role of space planners will evolve and partnerships between space planning and other teams will be key. How can we create bridges between space planners and CPG companies but also integrate the space planners in the category strategy? Space planners must be at the decision table.
Solution providers must continue to innovate and try to better understand each retailer and their own process. They must become even stronger partners to space planners to tackle the growing number of challenges ahead.
Despite several challenges associated with space planning, emerging technologies like AI and image recognition offer significant potential to help retailers optimize their processes. Looking to the future, space planners must continue to develop their skills and adapt to the changing retail landscape. Great challenges ahead but also exhilarating innovations on the horizon. We’re excited to be part of it!