How to monitor the performance of new products

There is always an opportunity for retailers to embrace, whether it’s a product launch, a new trend or an upcoming event. But, once you’ve taken these new products on, how can you be sure they are having the expected impact and how can you tell when that magic has worn off?

Monitoring the performance of products on your shelves is critical. Having the wrong product promoted in the wrong place isn’t just reducing sales of that product, it could also be hampering sales of something that would be better placed there instead.

“Every product has its worth on the shelf,” says Andrew Newton, from Nisa Local Halesowen in West Midlands. “If you’ve got something that you’re continually having to reduce or throw out, then delete it. We give a product three months to work usually.”

For some retailers, it is a case of casting an experienced eye over the store, seeing where there are empty spaces on shelves and what’s passing across their tills. For others, technology has taken away that responsibility, with computers providing all the data they need. Many retailers opt for a blend of the two. “You’ve got to know your store and daily products well,” says Newton. “For example, certain things will sell well in the store, but certain things will sell well online.”

Having lots of eyes on things can also be a boon. Your staff members can help you understand better what’s selling well and what might need some love or simply replacing.

“We’ve got WhatsApp and we do a lot of work on that with messages,” says Dennis Williams, of Premier Broadway in Edinburgh. “Anything we think we should be promoting, we put on an app, so it covers the issues we’ve been talking about. You’ve got to benchmark things. We use the app on a regular basis to keep staff up to scratch, not necessarily to hit a figure, but so we’re keeping on top of things.”

Watch your newest successes

Andrew Newton, from Nisa Local in Halesowen in West Midlands, combines EPoS data with his own experience to analyse what’s selling well in his stores. He keeps an eye on everything that he can, especially things that have experienced a big rise in sales.

“When something new comes in, there’s usually a big buzz, but then sales start to fall off,” he says. “You have to give it some time and judge when to put it back into normal stock. Otherwise, you’ll be full of limited-edition or old ‘new’ lines that aren’t selling as well as they were. Ultimately, you have to keep going back to the core range.”

For example, when Cadbury Orange Twirl came out last year, he promoted it heavily at the counter and it saw huge sales growth. After six weeks, when sales started to plateau or even drop, he put it back onto the normal shelves where it ticks over nicely, selling “a box a week, which is good for a confectionery item”.

Andrew Newton, from Nisa Local in Halesowen in West Midlands
EPoS is your friend

While it is tempting to rely on your gut feeling, ultimately, the computer doesn’t lie. Steve Bassett, from Londis Abbotsbury Road in Weymouth, Dorset, uses an EPoS-based ordering system that records all sales, purchases and wastage.

“If we’re buying 20 packs of something and 10 are down as reduced to clear, then our EPoS will simply request that we order 10 rather than 20 next time,” he says. “The computer makes the decision rather than our hearts.”

When it comes to measuring wastage, Bassett is still searching for the right way to input data. Areas of the store – for example, chilled – contain plenty of products that have short shelf lives, like fish and meat, but also longer-life products as well, such as butter and bacon. To avoid confusion, he has six deliveries a week, so he need only predict demand 48 hours ahead rather than a whole week. This week he’s bringing in burgers and buns as the weather improves.

Steve Bassett, from Londis Abbotsbury Road in Weymouth, Dorset
Be aware of seasonal changes

Town populations can change with seasons, especially for Mark Dudden, whose Cardiff store, Albany Road Post Office, is in a big student area. The summer is quieter, with a big spike expected for September, which he knows to prepare for. For example, students buy more Marlboro cigarettes, so he will need more of those soon. He monitors what’s needed and what’s performing by physically looking over the stock and using his experience to decide what he needs to pick up from the cash and carry.

He also keeps abreast of current events that might precipitate a surge in demand, particularly where his magazines are concerned. “This morning, there was a lot of talk about Harry and Meghan being shortlisted for an award, so that means there will be magazines that spike in sales as a result,” he says. “I keep my eye out for limited-editions because it’s always good to have those. You have to be aware of your surroundings.”

Mark Dudden, whose Cardiff store, Albany Road Post Office
Trust your gut

As an experienced retailer, Dennis Williams, of Premier Broadway in Edinburgh, doesn’t feel the need for strict benchmarks. “I don’t necessarily keep score, I just know in store how things are and that’s just from the experience of being in the trade a long time,” he says. He makes sure to ask staff about how they see things and to share their experiences on a group WhatsApp.

Newer retailers may want to aspire to certain standards to keep on top of their business, but Williams is more comfortable playing it by ear, otherwise running the risk of overthinking things. “The issue for me is what happens if you don’t hit a target? What do you do? What are the answers?” KPIs can lead to more stress than success. However, one big change in tracking Williams’ sales has been in comparing them with 2019’s figures, as opposed to year on year, due to the drastic changes wrought by Covid-19 in 2020.

Dennis Williams, of Premier Broadway in Edinburgh

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