• Joanne Neidorf

High and Low Collaboration Scores: Results From Our Survey on Merchant and Planner Responsibilities

Merchant Insight Consulting conducted an online survey to gather input from individuals with meaningful experience with the Merchant and Planning functions in a wide variety of non-grocery retail formats in order to establish where there is consensus - and where there is variance - regarding who typically owns particular merchandising activities and where collaboration between Merchants and Planners is most critical in today's retail organizations.

Many retailers have adopted a Merchant/Planner partnership responsible for driving results within a particular product category or business. While this allows retailers to benefit from combining the strengths of each function to manage the business, in practice it can be unclear how much influence each function should have over specific decisions and actions.

For a recap of the survey results on who typically "owns" key activities, see previous blog posts. However, assignment of primary responsibility for merchandising activities is only part of the picture. The partnership between the Merchant and Planner demands constant communication and collaboration touching nearly every activity that each undertakes. Nonetheless, all activities are not created equal when it comes to how much collaboration is needed to ensure top-quality decisions an results.

Highest Collaboration Scores

Survey respondents were asked to rate the degree of collaboration between the Merchant and the Planner that they thought was required for each of the activities. More than half of the respondents indicated that the required collaboration is High or Extremely High/Critical for six activities:

It is interesting that primary responsibility for these activities is split between Merchants and Planners. Merchants are usually the primary lead on creating a strategic plan and building an assortment plan. Planners take the lead on conducting post-season analysis, building the MFP and re-forecasting the OTB. This split reinforces the reality that each member of this partnership contributes as both a primary owner and an active collaborator to make a strong partnership. It is also important that these high collaboration activities are spread across pre-season, in-season and post-season activities.

Reviewing and reporting on business performance is one of the activities where the ongoing partnership between the Merchant and Planner is most critical. This is reinforced in two ways:

  • An even split among respondents as to which role takes the lead

  • High scores for required collaboration

Lowest Collaboration Scores

While we have identified the areas where both the Merchant and the Planner must stay engaged and involved even if they are not the primary owner of the activity, it is also important to recognize that this level of collaboration is NOT required - nor even productive - in equal measure across all activities. In many cases, it is more efficient for either the Planner or the Merchant to work independently to achieve the common goals.

In fact, more than two-thirds of survey respondents identified ten activities where they rated the required level of collaboration as None or Low. Many of these are executional activities like:

  • Communicating information to the channels (digital and stores):

  • Communicating product information (86% rated as No or Low collaboration required)

  • Communicating visual guidelines (81%)

  • Communicating receipt/inventory information (78%)

  • Communicating special event/promo information (67%)


  • Placing Purchase Orders (POs) (77% rated as No or Low collaboration required)

  • Tracking and managing inbound POs (73%)

  • Managing DC to store replenishment (69%)

It's likely that once the decisions have been made and the guidelines set, the work can be handled by either the Merchant or Planner without a great deal of additional consultation and collaboration required.

Another area where little or no collaboration seems to be required is in the area of product development and purchasing, which is part of the Merchant's primary responsibilities:

  • Finding/identify new suppliers (82% rated as No or Low collaboration required)

  • Developing new product (74%)

  • Negotiating with suppliers (on costs, terms of purchase, etc.) (68%)

Key Takeaway: While it is important for the Merchant and Planner to stay tightly linked and develop a true partnership to run their business together, this does not mean that both are equally involved in all activities. Instead, it's as important to agree on what will be done independently and with minimal collaboration as well as where more intense collaboration is required.

To request a copy of the full survey report, please contact us at info@merchant-insight.com