Is it time for a category management revolution?

A senior category manager for a major confectionery manufacturer has urged procurement professionals to rethink…...

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A senior category manager for a major confectionery manufacturer has urged procurement professionals to rethink category management and expand its remit in order to keep abreast of technology-driven changes in consumer purchasing habits.

David Nolen, vice president of category management at chocolate and confectionery manufacturing giant Hershey’s, responded to the growing need among retailers to integrate physical and digital commerce as seamlessly as possible in response to changes in the way that consumers shop.

Many consumers are now ordering online for convenience and using click and collect to receive their goods, a development that also indicates that they are changing their use of media in the direction of eCommerce options.

They also typically research online before buying in-store.

He believes that category management is now too narrowly defined to encompass either the consumer insights that retailers must have or the value that manufacturers add – both have now become critically important.

Category management pros in retail (and elsewhere) have traditionally relied on manufacturer recommendations for where to place what products on what shelf and at what price.

However, this is changing, according to Nolen: the more advanced retailers are using omnichannel strategies, which means that the value of category management practitioners hinges on expanding their scope from aisle expert to shopper expert.

Where shoppers continue to buy in-store, they increasingly do so on the back of prior online eCommerce research, a development that is driving a new need for online searchability and the interlinking of digital and physical shelves.

The speed of consumption has also increased, driving consumer demand for a ‘frictionless’ retail experience, which affects more and more retail functions and not simply operations staff as before.

Today, store design, media, trade, merchandising and supply chain are all involved out of necessity.

For Nolen, this means a new form of category management – what he calls “total commerce management partnerships”.

In this way, relevant data can be generated to yield invaluable shopper insights that go beyond the category and increase profitable sales.

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