Width or Depth : A Critical Choice


June 2, 2010

Diwakar Kumar

IndiaRetailing, June 2, 2010

Customers visiting a store are looking for either the width of merchandise – the variety of product lines offered – or the depth – the number of each item or particular style of a product on offer. For most department and brand stores, a superior merchandise width generates better sales results, especially if the target audience is trendy or style conscious.

In a bid to satisfy the discerning customers, large format retailers generally focus on the width of merchandise. And for them it becomes mandatory to give the ‘feel of everything’ in a store; small format retailers, on the other hand, need to be little more strategist and know how to utilise the shelf area.

But, what is more important – width or depth?

In a poll question asked by IndiaRetailing, ‘Retailers need to focus on width – rather than depth – of merchandise to attract new customers’, 79.33 per cent of the audience supported ‘width’, 17.33 per cent went with ‘depth’, while the remaining 3.33 per cent preferred to remain neutral.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, says, “Depth and width are two facets of ‘variety’. For a retailer, whether depth is more important than width or vice versa depends on the retailer’s format and business model. For most large-format stores, it is certainly important to give the customer the feeling of ‘everything is available under one roof’ and initially width rather than depth is more important. However, even for large-formats, to avoid comparisons of ‘sameness’ with other large-format competitors, depth begins to become important once the initial market presence has been established.”

Dutta emphasises, “More importantly, the merchandise depth – varieties within a product category – enables the retailer to address different segments within the customer base. For a speciality retailer and its customers, clearly depth is more critical.”

“Customers are increasingly looking for novelty in product experience and this can only come through width rather than depth. One has to, however, ensure that the new offerings are relevant, otherwise this could result in increasing the working capital and possible write-offs,” thinks Viney Singh, MD, Max Hypermarket India.

Gopalakrishnan Sankar, chief executive, Reliance Footprint, says retailers need to focus on the width of collection (as well as the depth) because today discerning customers require choice in terms of brands, designs and price points. “This will cater to the varying tastes of different customer segments and also different moods of the same customer,” says Sankar.

“Depth-oriented merchandising strategy works better for specialised stores. Most apparel and FMCG-buying decisions happen within three feet from the merchandise. By that information, the visual merchandising can trigger an impulsive reaction by how the merchandise is presented – both in terms of style and value. Value comes with abundance: displaying merchandise in larger quantities reduces the perceived value and hence would be more attractive to the value-centric consumer and vice-versa,” observes Ashmit S Alag, director, Academy of Applied Arts.

“Width-based VM strategy focuses on vignette settings, where coordinated merchandise is displayed together to show how things can go together or match in design or utility. While this display technique enables the consumer to gauge the ‘width’, for the retailer it leads to more number of SKUs sold per transaction,” concludes Alag.

So, clearly, as experts point out, one doesn’t take precedence over the other. Both width and depth of merchandise have their roles to play and which one to focus on depends solely on the retailer’s format and business model.