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The Highs & Lows of Buying Off-Price Inventory and How COVID-19 has Impacted the Buying Process

The Challenges of Buying Excess Inventory

Buyers who specialize in selling excess inventory have a challenging job. They are tasked with surprising and delighting their customers with compelling assortments, but without the consistent pre-season planning methodology of traditional buying groups. While many large off-price retailers have resorted to working with their vendors to create exclusive pieces affixed with the brand’s name (often referred to as make-ups) to mitigate the risk of not having key product categories in their stores, the fluctuating and inconsistent assortment availability of off-price retailers is also what makes them so special to the shopper. After all, it’s truly about that “treasure hunt” experience. 

While the chase to secure the best inventory at the best price is what motivates these buyers, the challenge of buying from dozens of brands across the globe with short deadlines is no easy feat. Buyers are consistently inundated with offers in their inboxes in various file formats without standardized templates across brands. Offers can be frustratingly void of product specs, images, and clear descriptions making it difficult to decide what to buy and how much to buy. 

“Googling” a style number, style name, or color code to understand what is being offered is a time consuming part of their daily routine. Buyers are under pressure to gather and consolidate information across platforms. This includes understanding going rates in the market, previous selling information and on hand orders of similar products to ensure what they are buying makes sense for their respective book of business. They are always working as fast as possible while trying to make the most informed purchasing decisions, and most importantly before another buying group scoops up the available inventory.

Relationship building with brands through market appointments and social interactions is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a buyer. Many anecdotally refer to this as “relationship buying,” because off-price buyers rely on the strong relationships they have developed with vendors as their gateway to securing the best product for their customers. They believe in order to be considered as the “first organization to call” when there is merchandise available, they better be at the top of the contact list. So even before they receive those lists they are relying on the close bonds with their brands to ensure they are granted access to the most desirable excess inventory.


Navigating a New Landscape

Now, more than a year after COVID-19 flipped the retail world on its head, buyers have had to rethink their strategies to ensure that they are still at the “top of that list.” Buyers never imagined having to pick out an assortment remotely from their kitchen table instead of having the ability to sift through samples in-person at a market appointment, trade show or in their office conference rooms. 

Meanwhile, the brands from which these buyers purchase inventory have already begun to implement solutions that both enable remote work and collaboration and drive efficiencies within their existing processes. Sellers have made significant strides in the way they utilize technology and data-driven decisions to manage and optimize the way they sell excess inventory, but buyers are finding even more challenges with the buying process during the pandemic. Buyers are under tremendous pressure to make fast, well-informed purchasing decisions while being bogged down by manual work, legacy systems and hundreds of Excel files needed during the buying process. They often need to navigate through product assortments with incomplete data and images, ultimately wasting valuable time by seeking important information across disparate systems. On top of internal challenges, off-price retailers also need to address the increased competition from top resale marketplaces, which have become even more appealing to consumers amid the pandemic across all demographics.

The challenges that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted critical weak points that have persisted within the off-price buying space for decades. Juggling spreadsheets, emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings to make purchasing decisions was once the status quo, but the buying conditions have changed—and the time crunch has not. With these new circumstances, retailers must now re-evaluate their ways of working to streamline their processes, transact faster, and ensure they stay ahead of their competitors. 

INTURN Select takes the guess-work out of buying. When faced with complex promotional offers and tight deadlines, our solution provides retailers with full visibility and access into the information needed to make faster, smarter purchases. By centralizing data and providing tools to instantly measure the quality of a product assortment, our solution empowers organizations like yours to profit by purchasing the right products at the right time. Get in touch for more information.