July 27, 2022
There’s a common anecdote in tech about military strategist and Air Force pilot Colonel John Boyd and the method he created for superior decision-making in competitive environments. He called it the OODA loop, which is an acronym for the four key steps he determined lead to any logical action: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.
Whether it was Boyd’s intention or not, his decision-making framework laid the groundwork for agile methodology, which has been adopted by businesses worldwide as the fastest and most effective way to create and continuously improve best-selling products.
In combat, an OODA loop lasts no longer than a few microseconds: I see an enemy aircraft on the radar and with my eyes, I determine that it is quickly approaching based on its direction and speed, I decide an evasive maneuver is the best course of action, and I act on that decision.
Here’s the trick — the OODA loop never really stops. Once the pilot has acted on their decision to evade, they must now observe new information based on the feedback they received: I successfully evaded the target but now I’m in a vulnerable position. The previous action always informs the next decision making cycle. Pretty simple, right? Not if you’re in retail!
Historically, the apparel industry has spent millions of dollars and countless hours vetting, organizing, and facilitating focus groups. Analyzing the feedback from these discussions can take several weeks and the sample size is too small to accurately reflect all key consumer audiences. Data from focus groups is often supplemented with historical sales data – but if the last two years are any indication, historical patterns are becoming less relevant to future performance.
Without a strong guiding star, stakeholders resort to “gut feelings” and best guesses to make assortment decisions, sometimes spreading resources too thin over a wide variety of silhouettes and colorways. Over-assortment leads to underperformance, markdowns, and razor-thin margins, and mediocre sales diminish brand integrity over time.
In today’s digitally-connected world, consumers have never been more engaged with the brands they love, and often jump at the chance to contribute their thoughts on products. An OODA-enabled team makes consumer sentiment its North Star, leveraging consumers’ eagerness to answer a series of questions that will have a direct impact on the products they see on shelves in the coming months.
Armed with fresh consumer sentiment data, product creation teams are able to answer critical questions when developing products and crafting a line: How are different audience segments responding to the new styles we’re considering? Are the black and charcoal loafers competing for the same consumers? How do our denim washes perform compared to our primary competitor’s?
MakerSights improves consumer feedback loops by connecting brands directly with their audiences via targeted digital surveys that sample a much larger and more representative group (read: statistically sound) to determine which styles, colorways, and design details resonate the most. Actionable results are returned in hours instead of weeks, giving brands the ability to efficiently and accurately capture and evaluate consumers' sentiment so they can make more profitable, data-informed decisions – exactly what Colonel Boyd would have wanted!
Just like the pilot from earlier, OODA is only truly effective when you are continuously gathering feedback for the next cycle, so the best brands make sure to follow this methodology and solicit consumer feedback at each stage of the product development process. The rest of this post will break down key questions MakerSights helps brands answer as product creation teams align on seasonal direction, evaluate newness, and adopt or drop items from an assortment.
To understand the cultural and creative forces at play, brands typically send designers around the world to trend watch, report back, and develop concepts for an upcoming assortment. While decisions are still high-level at this stage, they set the tone for the entire assortment, so it's critical to start engaging your consumers for feedback. Ask the big picture questions like…
If you’re relying on 2021 sales data to inform 2023 Spring assortments, you’re going to find yourself with a massive stockpile of unsold sweatpants and athleisure wear. The reality is that trends today evolve too quickly to rely on historical data, but MakerSights can help you “pulse check” current trends and ideas to ensure that products you’re making today will resonate with consumers tomorrow.
Imagine your designers return from Paris, Tokyo, and New York with a common thread across all three cities; microfloral patterns are everywhere. Your team has Observed a potential theme for your upcoming season, but first you need to Orient and test this trend with key consumer audiences. After creating and delivering a survey comprising the various directions you’re considering for the assortment, feedback returns from your target consumers with a strong affinity for large floral prints rather than the microfloral patterns seen on the streets. Armed with these insights, the team Decides to include large floral design options for evaluation, Acting on a more focused selection of designs for internal stakeholders, saving time and money in the process. OODA Loop: Accomplished!
MakerSights doesn’t just work on your own assortments – compare competitor products by attributes like silhouettes, materials, and colorways, grouping them into buckets to understand which of your styles would outperform your competitors in the market, as well as where you can make strategic shifts to capture market share away from the competition.
Once you’ve landed on an array of possible newness for the season, it’s time to determine which new styles to move forward with, which combination of design details win the most favor from consumers, and which styles or colors are competing for the same audience. No pressure.
An assortment risks big losses and thin margins when newness is not carefully scrutinized. To take more calculated creative risks, check in with consumers on each and every attribute you want to test. How do our consumer-approved floral patterns look on different silhouettes? What about other attributes like logo placement, fabrics, or pockets? If you’ve historically relied on focus groups, this is where participant fatigue sets in quickly.
MakerSights facilitates attribute testing on a massive scale by serving thousands of target consumers with only a few items of your total set, allowing them to carefully consider and rate each option, as well as provide thoughtful written feedback on why a particular design feature resonates (or why not) without overwhelming respondents.
Once tests are complete, your team can view an aggregate of all feedback, as well as create buckets by attribute to zoom in and determine which combination of design features your consumers love most and if you have any gaps in the line. You’ve Observed that floral patterns will sell, but with which neckline, and on which silhouette? Now you can Orient around the strongest designs out of thousands of possibilities and Decide which to consider for adoption, allowing you to take Action within days instead of weeks.
“We are now able to create, tweak, adopt, and drop styles based on what we know consumers want, versus what we think they want. MakerSights enables us to take more calculated creative risks, and we’ve seen considerable growth from making consumer-led decisions, like adding belt loops to men’s pants and decreasing the length of men’s shorts.” — Caitlin McGilvery, Director of Merchandising, Faherty
It’s also important to test any proposed newness to ensure that they are driving incremental value across the line. MakerSights’ Head-to-Head comparison tool allows you to pit any two SKUs against each other to see if your consumers are likely to purchase one product over the other (i.e. a floral camisole vs. a floral tank). If a significant percentage of consumers like Product A and Product B equally, you will likely see sales overlap between the two products and should consider selecting the most preferred style of the two for sampling.
Now the line is ready for final review but there is still work to be done to ensure that each adopted SKU plays a role in the assortment. The line must appeal to various channels and regions with a balance of high-performers and eye-catching styles that will attract a fashion forward, trendsetting demographic without diluting your margins with too many niche styles.
As you prepare to finalize the global line, Reach – which measures each product’s ability to capture new shoppers – is the best metric to understand which SKUs will contribute to the assortment, and which ones detract from its overall success. Leveraging the scientific media planning methodology known as TURF analysis, MakerSights’ Line Efficiency transmutes consumer sentiment data into insights, enabling product teams and stakeholders to accurately identify and cut the long tail by displaying the incremental Reach for each SKU so you can easily see which additional styles or colors attract more consumers and which fail to add value within the context of the assortment.
This makes it easy for merchants to Observe the performance of individual styles, Orient around the results of the entire line, and Decide which styles to drop. Now the whole team can Act with confidence, thoughtfully balancing core and carryover styles with exciting newness that attracts new shoppers to the line – all while creating as few SKUs as possible.
Line Efficiency also helps you screen for potential cannibalization between colors and strike the right balance between trend-driven styles and core-revenue drivers, avoiding “nice-to-have” SKUs that erode margin, while keeping products with distinct appeal among consumers.
The end result is an assortment with tight selections where each SKU plays a unique, important role in the line where markdowns are minimized and there’s no wasted inventory sent to landfills.
“Line Efficiency has transformed how we make critical decisions about assortments. Deciding what gets adopted or dropped has always been based on a blend of art and science between intuition and historical performance. Each product plays a specific role in an assortment, and with MakerSights’ Line Efficiency we are now able to take a more nuanced and strategic approach to decisions than simply ‘cutting the long tail.’” - Lisa Best, VP of Merchandising, Herschel Supply Co.
Regional preferences, supply chain delays, production issues, retail partner demands…crafting a line is rarely straightforward. With a flexible and interactive platform like Line Efficiency, you can test endless variations of product mixes and the chart will adjust to reflect the Reach of the updated assortment, allowing you to account for evolving market needs without increasing costs.
Congrats! You’ve made it through your first OODA-based product creation cycle. While it’s a great framework for taking action in any context, the real power of the OODA loop lies in constantly analyzing feedback– in this case, consumer sentiment– to make the next decision.
MakerSights centers consumer sentiment as your North Star by providing a single platform to survey large and targeted pools of consumers, aggregate their opinions into insights, and take decisive action during product creation with confidence.
Ready to create your own consumer-obsessed feedback loop with MakerSights? Drop us a line and we’ll help you formulate the best plan to grow your margins while reducing your overall waste.
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