Isn't it great? Headlines and the media world seem to be in unison; the dastardly COVID pandemic is being arrested. And, if we can believe the pundits, pent-up shoppers are about to buy all sorts of products and services with abandon.
But, will they?
Given this exuberance, many retailers could be building up excess inventory. Retailers once again need to be true merchants. That is, the #1 responsibility of retail senior managements must always be to control inventory. (It's the only thing that makes money, but it soaks up cash.)
Here's a refresher course for all. For each $100 of inventory @cost, as it sells, its markup (margin dollars) helps cover expenses and adds to gross profit.
Even a modest increase in inventory turnover rates per year can yield a dramatic increase in margin dollars and thereby net profits. (For the formula for turnover and more perspective, see the section at The ROI focused on Inventory Control.)
Improvements in payroll, rent markups, and freight are controlled by competitive or fixed expenses. But turnover is directly within your control! And should never be neglected.
All of which helps explain why Michael Gould, when Chairman of Bloomingdales, so famously exclaimed to his buyers:
"No retailer ever went bankrupt because their turns were too high!"
The ROI is wondering: Might you be caught up in the exuberance of the post-pandemic hype? It's okay, as long as you're also focusing enough attention on your inventory turnover. (Yes, we believe in tough love.)
We often caution that many vendors are so much better trained at selling than retailers are trained at buying. In their eagerness to grow sales, and the associated promise of thereby growing profits, it is all too easy for retailers to become overbought. Instead of higher profits, they can find themselves in a cash flow crunch.
And that was in Before Times, before the pandemics. Throughout 2020 and continuing now, vendors and retailers alike have increased their online capabilities. Ordering online brought new challenges to buyers and sales reps, but also saved time and improved access.
We have applauded these advances in technology, but...
As we emerge from the pandemics, many retailers are eager to grow. (How's that for an understatement?!)
Trade shows are opening up with great success and eager buyers. Landlords are eager to fill vacancies, and in many instances, to cut deals. Vendors are eager to quit thinking about supply chain problems and start selling their merchandise, especially at trade shows. Plus, the continued growth and expansion of online wholesale marketplaces makes far more product available to retailers.
Then there is the access to capital. Lots of money is floating around out there
All in all, it creates an environment of exuberance. "Seize the opportunity" is the rallying cry. Indeed, for some retailers, FOMO – that Fear Of Missing Out – is pushing them to make some major decisions.
As more stores are able to reopen, and more shoppers are willing to emerge, what will they encounter?
You likely are aware of buy-now, pay-later (BNPL) programs, from Afterpay, Affirm, and Klarna, among others. It gained a foothold in online retail – "the hottest trend in e-commerce"– and has been especially popular in the UK and Australia. Now its availability to many more retailers may be accelerated with the proposed acquisition by Square of Afterpay. It is a trend we all need to watch carefully.
Here's the deal. Once again, the retailer is the pickle in the middle. The benefits of increasing sales (and average transaction value) which are very attractive, must be weighed against the potential increases in hassle factors, particularly for your most valuable asset: your front line staff.
You've gotten through the Holiday season, likely enjoyed some vacation time, and perhaps even have your own financial statements in hand.
For many retailers, 2021 proved to be a very profitable year. Congratulations!
In fact, go here to check out the pre-tax profit trends for the past two years for the median performers in 50+ retail segments. To borrow a phrase, everybody (almost) is above average!
Still less than $1 a day! 👀