The Category Management Playbook

Ten tools every retailer needs to build the best stores

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

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Reams. That’s likely how you’d quantify the amount of data your company has about any given category. POS data, shopper insights, line-item reviews … enough Excel sheets and PowerPoint charts to make your eyesight get a little worse each year, right?

It’s great that you’re collecting all of this data, but what are you doing with it? And what are you missing?

“Most people don’t know what they don’t know, because it’s inconvenient to think that way,” says Gordon Wade, managing partner and director of best practices for the Category Management Association (CMA), Wimberley, Texas. He summarizes this phenomenon and identifies such weak spots with the acronym IWIK: I wish I knew.

We’re here to eradicate the IWIKs.

The Convenience Store Products Category Management Playbook organizes category-management tools into 10 key areas to standardize processes and identify gaps in information. It stems from the CMA’s ROI Improvement Plan, which the association uses to evaluate a retailer’s or manufacturer’s category-management functions and suggest changes.

Every retailer or manufacturer should go through the CMA’s ROI Improvement Plan. In the meantime, we’ll provide you with the 10 steps of the plan so you can begin formalizing your category-management toolkit and put all that data to measurable use.

Many larger retailers may already have a semblance of this playbook in place, while indie operators or brands in transition may be more focused on making sure their night-shift employee shows up tonight. Given that, you can go through this chronologically, or pick one step at a time based on your needs today.

The Voice of the Shopper
Historically, category management has focused on the products on your shelf, and the shelves in your stores. Today, cat-man practitioners are increasingly expanding their gaze to the shoppers themselves, integrating consumer insights in order to understand how to get the shopper into the store in the first place and keep them coming back.

This first step in the CMA’s ROI Improvement Plan includes identifying the behaviors and attitudes of each category’s core shopper. The foundation of this Voice of the Shopper document involves a standard taxonomy for each category:

  • Who is the shopper?
  • What are they buying?
  • Why are they buying it?
  • When are they buying it?
  • How are you influencing their purchase decisions (such as with ads, marketing, social media, in-store signage)?

The goal of this document is to ensure everyone on the team understands who the category shopper is and knows where to find that information quickly. More often than not, though, it also serves to reveal gaps in data and areas where the retailer needs further insights. It also helps retailers understand just what to do with that data. “Most retailers and manufacturers have a lot of data, but it is pitifully organized,” says Wade. This exercise will standardize the capturing and sharing of that data across the board.


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