Retailers undertake various business activities and perform functions that add value to the offerings they make to their target segments. Retailers provide convenient location, stock and appropriate mix of merchandise in suitable packages in accordance with the needs of customers. The four major activities carried out by retailers are:
- Arrange for assortment of offerings
- Breaking quantity
- Holding stock
- Extending services
An assortment is a retailer’s selection of merchandise. It includes both the depth and breadth of products carried. Retailers have to select the combination of assortments from various categories. The assortments must include substitutable items of multiple brands and price points. They should be distinguished on account of physical dimensions and attributes e.g., color or flavor. The small retailer takes assortment decision on the basis of his experience; on the other hand retailers from organized retailing depend on a detailed study of past trends and future projections.
Retailers need to consider certain factors while devising assortment plans for their stores: profitability associated with particular merchandise mix, store image, layout and the level of compatibility between the existing merchandise. For example, FoodWorld, a leading food supermarket positioned as a one-stop shopping center, deals in multiple product categories along with all possible variants of brands, stock keeping units, and physical attributes in order to meet the expectations of their consumers and survive in the business. Whereas, Subhiksha, a grocery chain in south India has impressive assortments of only the fast moving brands rather than all available variants in the market. Their assortment plan is governed by location, size and store image of their stores.
Breaking bulk means physical repackaging of the products by retailers in small unit sizes according to customer’s convenience and stocking requirements. Normally, retailers receive large quantities of sacks and cases of merchandise from suppliers to reduce their transportation costs. In order to meet their customers’ requirements retailers have to break or arrange the bulk into convenient units. This entire function of the retailers adds value to the offerings not only for the end customers but also for the suppliers in the value chain. Even in the earlier days of generic and commodity-based trading most of the retailers used to perform this important function in the value chain. This function receives negligible attention from the retailers now due the introduction of new product categories, such as FMCG and ready-to-wear apparel.
To ensure the regular availability of the offerings retailers maintain appropriate levels of inventory. Consumers normally depend on the retailers directly to replenish their stocks at home. Therefore, retailers, on periodic basis, maintain the required levels of stock to meet the regular or seasonal fluctuations in the demand. Retailers need to maintain equilibrium between the range or variety carried and the sales which it gives rise to. Retailers have to face the negative consequences of holding unwanted levels of stock–for instance, too little stock will hamper the sales volume, whereas, too much stock will increase the retailer’s cost of operation. Generally, in small towns of India most retailers have arrangements with the nearby warehouses to stock the goods. Some are so small that they have to stock only on the shop floor. Retailers in the organized sector, to a certain extent, are using effective software packages for maintaining adequate levels of inventory. At the same time, retailers avail of just-in-time deliveries with the help of efficient consumer response systems, which reduces the burden of maintaining high levels of stocks.
Retailing provides multiple services to immediate customers and other members of the value chain. The set of services extended by particular retailers may be part of their core product offerings or it may be ‘add on’ to their product or service. Retailers offer credit, home delivery, after-sales services and information regarding new products to their customers, thereby making the shopping experience convenient and enjoyable. At the same time, they provide stocking place, reach to the ultimate customers, and information about the concerned target segment to the suppliers. For example, Time Zone, the first organized retail chain of wristwatches in India, started by leading watch manufacturers Titan, set up in all its stores, service centers with proper equipment and trained manpower. This has not only diluted the relevance of service providers in the unorganized sector but has also enhanced the confidence of the customers in the retail services provided by the particular retail chain, as after-sales service is considered to be an integral ingredient of the watch purchase.