Amy, the Retail Category Manager: moms, not marketers, invented comparison shopping

Amy, Retail Category Manager

At indix, we believe that anyone who influences the product, including its attributes, price, promotion or distribution, is a Product Manager. We have been talking to Product Managers at brands and retailers, and keeping their pain points in mind as we continue to build our product. In an earlier post, we discussed how widely product managers at brands and retailers vary in title, or avatar, but how much they share when it comes to responsibilities. Their titles may range from Pricing Analyst to Retail Category Manager to Merchandising Manager, but each title nestles somewhere within the range of “Product Manager.”

We had promised a look at the unique challenges faced by various avatars within product management at brands and retailers. What follows is a story from Amy, a fictional Retail Category Manager at a large online retailer, based on our interviews with Retail Category Managers. Amy is a married woman with kids living in the suburbs. At work, she is in charge of selecting and marketing all baby products on her e-store. Her daily challenges include keeping track of prices, promotions, and changes in assortment from competitors, and updating product information by reviewing site statistics and reports from the IT department. She talked to us about how she tackles these problems on a small scale in her own life and the fact that she just hasn’t found a great solution for the large scale in her work life.

We’ll let Amy tell you more:

I’m a mother of two and a retail category manager for baby products at a large online retailer. I do a lot of hardball negotiating, comparison-shopping, and tough sells – all of which occur at home. At work, it gets a little tedious. I have to negotiate costs with vendors, compare prices with competitors, and sell the hell out of the products I choose for our customers for hundreds and hundreds of products.

Shopping for my family means scanning bar and QR codes on my phone to help me compare prices across town and see who’s saying what about the products I need for the house. Useful in my home life, hopeless in my work life. I don’t have time to look up and compare each of the hundreds of products I manage. Even if I did, none of the applications out there can collect, interpret, and monitor the data to provide any real-time usable information that would help me better market the products I’m selling.

When I need to know why people are abandoning their purchase on the site, I think about how I decide to buy: price, markdowns, and presentation. Typically my shopping happens on the run, or sitting sideline at a soccer practice, or in bed on my tablet moments before falling asleep. I’m looking at the cost of the product, price of shipping, new markdowns, coupons, reviews, and presentation on the site.

My work life overflows with baby products: diapers, toys, lotions, potions, everything you need for a baby. At home, I’ve got to get everything I need for two 11-year-old boys, including Whiffle balls, stain remover and dog food. To clarify, the dog food is for the dog, the stain remover is for both dog and boys, and the Whiffle ball replacement remains a mystery. Where do those balls go? I’m buying them all the time! The boys say the dog buries them, but the dog looks pointedly towards the fence at the back of the yard, I don’t know who to believe.

What I do know is that Whiffle balls sometimes go on sale in a 12 pack, but a different retailer has free shipping every other month. The dog food never goes on sale, but when I can find a coupon I can get second-day delivery. And the stain remover comes with a full-size detergent, but only from one store, and it’s not my preferred place to shop. Comparison-shopping helps me save money and time, but sometimes even then I’ll buy from somewhere because I prefer the store. Whether it’s better descriptions, images, pricing, promos, or customer service, I’m shopping where I know I get value.

As a category manager who’s picking, pricing and marketing products, I’m keeping all of this in mind. The difference at work: I have to keep this in mind for hundreds and hundreds of products. I’m answering the same questions on a much larger scale and what I place value on in my own purchasing may or may not be the same for our customer. That just means the list of items to track including assortment, pricing information, markdowns at competitors, and market changes keeps growing. Right now, I tackle the problem manually. Just like at home, I’m looking up competitors and eyeballing the differences. It works at home and right now it works at work, but things could get easier for me if I had a solution for my pricing and competitive research problems, and that would mean more time to lose Whiffle balls with the boys. Just call me the product category mom-ager.

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