Can Merchandisers Also Be Product Developers? Zenni Thinks So
By Tessa Roberts
The Zenni merchandising team is small but mighty. Not only are they responsible for product development, but are also expected to bring an air of newness to the company on a weekly basis. This tall order doesn’t shake Dilyara's team, however, as they have found effective ways to overcome hurdles common in the merchandising community.
The Zenni Brand
Zenni is a shining example of the power of digital native brands. The all-online business (with the notable exception of a recent pop-up shop) was founded in 2003 and has grown to be a leading retailer of prescription and non-prescription eyewear. Focused on providing the most affordable glasses with the highest-quality optical lenses, they offer the most diverse assortment at almost 3000 SKUs which equates to around 1,500 products.
A Lean Team with a Not-so-lean to Do List
Even within our organization, we're expected to bring this newness on a weekly basis.
- Dilyara Breyer, E-commerce Merchandising Manager at Zenni
With the thousands of styles being shopped daily, Zenni relies on a small team of 3-8 people who are simultaneously responsible for merchandising and product development. Included in this dual role of the merchandising team, Dilyara adds, is that, "within our organization, we're expected to bring this newness on a weekly basis, while being accounted for high SKU productivity and keeping our inventory really lean."
Demand Coupled with Efficiency
The challenge was set for the merchandising team: bring fresh, innovative ideas to the product line. As a well-oiled team with a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, Dilyara and her team knew they had to think smart about their strategy. They knew a time intensive, creatively niche pair of glasses wasn’t going to be their magic bullet. They needed fresh ideas backed by data.
Last year we were really in a pinch to provide that newness. We decided to tap into what sells already and what we know our customers love.
Zenni combined their sales data with customer feedback, and used this data to create a new offer that both minimized risk and rejuvenated the brand. The team decided to release their popular glasses in a new range of colors.
This idea was not met without resistance, confesses Dilyara, "We got some pushback from our own team members who were afraid adding new colors might cannibalize the existing SKUs."
To further minimize the risk and dispel these worries, the team limited the selection to only the top sellers. By listening to customer feedback, and paying attention to color trends, they could start developing the new colors with their vendor.
Making the decision to produce existing glasses in a new color range also meant development time was slashed. "We usually go through 4 to 6 design stages with a vendor, then we go through QC. QC can take somewhere between 2 weeks to maybe 2 months if a remake is necessary," shares Dilyara, "once a product is approved by QC, the development time is cut by at least 75 percent."
By taking this straightforward approach to freshening their products, "we achieved having new SKUs on the market in 3 months," right in time for their January campaign, says Dilyara.
Effectiveness Is the Road to Success
We turned our small size and tight integration of product development and e-commerce merchandisers into our strength.
During her presentation, Dilyara reflected on the results this new color range had had on the business and revealed:
- Development time was cut in half
- Revenue 430% WoW
- Customers showed their love with extremely positive feedback on social media.
This enormous success helped the team appreciate their multi-functional role. "We turned our small size and tight integration of product development and eCommerce merchandisers into our strength," says Dilyara proudly, "coupled with listening to our customers, it enabled us to produce successful and accelerated product launches."
This fruitful campaign fueled innovations later in the year as the team shifted their focus to face shapes and limited edition pride glasses, using the same methodology and approach as before. The team's understanding of both merchandising and product development meant any obstacles or inefficiencies in these areas could be overcome to create a popular product in a short time frame.
By starting with the data and combining it with their unique skill set in product development and merchandising, Dilyara's team are able to predict extremely successful product launches and support them with merchandising campaigns, while ensuring minimal risk.