What is Fashion Merchandising?

So you love fashion and shopping? You probably don’t realize the influence that a retailer’s fashion merchandising strategy has on your buying decisions and taste in fashion. Picture yourself walking into your favorite store or boutique and seeing a beautiful display of brand new merchandise, with carefully folded clothes, colorful signage and cute props. The display invites you into the store, attracts your attention to key items, and maybe even convinces you to splurge your latest paycheck on the season’s hottest merchandise. All of this has been carefully planned by experts who have studied the art of fashion merchandising, also called merchandise marketing.

Everything you see inside your favorite shops, from the visual displays and signage, to mannequins’ attire and placement, to the balance of coordinating outfits and the organization (also known as merchandising) of every single piece of apparel and product on a store’s floor, is all carefully planned by the store’s merchandise marketing staff for the ideal fashion consumer experience.

Executives in the fashion industry who are involved in merchandising can include everyone from buyers, allocators, merchandisers, visual display merchandisers, product developers, store operations managers and many others who plan a store’s merchandise and overall appearance far in advance through careful coordination. (See more in the Careers in Fashion section).

To successfully merchandise a fashion retailer–whether it’s a small boutique or major department store–requires that fashion representatives stay up-to-date on the latest fashion trends to understand what consumers will want to buy. For example, fashion merchandisers may attend fashion trade shows and fashion runway shows, observe fashion trends and predictives, and work closely with fashion designers to understand what will be popular with shoppers in the future.

Fashion merchandise representatives who are on the buying team apply their knowledge of fashion trends to purchase merchandise that will be popular with shoppers, and therefore profitable. Such decisions about a store’s merchandise–also known as stock–can greatly affect fashion businesses, so fashion merchandising decisions carry a lot of responsibility. Fashion merchandising jobs require a balance of savvy fashion sense and business expertise, like the ability to work within a specific budget, negotiate with manufacturing representatives, and the ability to set prices to ensure profitable margins.

Depending on the size of the company, a fashion merchandiser’s role can span a range of responsibilities. For example, a large department store may allocate a buyer to a very specific fashion category such as women’s jackets, whereas a small company may have a fashion merchandiser who handles all of women’s casualwear that includes jackets, tops, skirts, and pants.

Of course, once the merchandise is purchased and delivered to the store, it also has to be artfully organized and marketed, so strategy and fashion marketing know-how are an integral part of fashion merchandising. Often the buying and merchandising teams will serve as liaisons between various other representatives within a fashion company, like the marketing team or store’s sales representatives. See this illustrated in the image below.

Source: “The Role of a Fashion Buyer” Blackwell Publishing

Some of the interests, talents and personal qualities that merchandise marketing professionals possess include:

Forecasting Skills: You are “tuned in” to what the latest trends are, and can almost predict what’s going to be the next “hot” thing. In the fashion merchandising industry, this is also known as forecasting. You conduct extensive trend forecasting research through analyzing current events, social and cultural influences, and industry observations that apply to your target market. You can interpret this knowledge and apply it to your fashion buying decisions.

Leadership/Communication Skills: In any role within the fashion merchandising industry, you will need to make important decisions that apply to things like merchandise buying, planning merchandise assortments, product development, pricing, inventory, deliveries, etc. You will need to develop strong relationships with external partners like vendors and suppliers, as well as internal partners such as product developers, marketing teams sales and customer service representatives within your company, so having a good attitude, confidence and strong communication skills are highly important.

Analytical/Research Skills: As a merchandise marketing professional, it is imperative that you apply both your fashion savvy and research to make informed decisions about the merchandise that you purchase. For example, you need to consider how key items will fit into your budget, how they will coordinate together within the visual displays on your store’s floor, how your merchandise meets consumer demand, the timing that merchandise will be delivered to stores, and how merchandise reflects the overall image of your company and target consumer.

Are you right for fashion merchandising? Read more here.