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Wolverine’s Next Innovation Move: Customer-Driven Assortment Optimization

In an age when consumer demands shift at the drop of a hat, customer feedback has become vital in determining how to predict shopper desires, especially for businesses with a diverse set of brands and products. Wolverine Worldwide, which owns and operates 12 footwear brands including Merrell, Sperry, Hush Puppies, Saucony, Wolverine and Keds, is taking this strategy to heart by partnering with First Insight to unearth the consumer insights necessary to optimize its assortments, and product development and merchandising capabilities.

The Michigan-based footwear maker integrated First Insight’s Voice of the Customer predictive analytics solution across its portfolio in a move designed to further leverage data in its product decision-making process to improve speed to market, sell-in and sell-through while reduce markdowns.

Lindsey Goodman, director of consumer insights for Wolverine Worldwide, said the footwear company chose First Insight from a number of potential solutions based on its scalability and ability to deliver measurable ROI.

“With the guidance and support of First Insight’s key account management team, we have been able to leverage robust consumer demand data to increase product confidence, leading to higher sales at sell-in,” said Goodman. “Wolverine Worldwide is viewing the current COVID-19 crisis as a catalyst to leverage customer research and accelerate our digital transformation to emerge better and stronger than ever.”

Kate Pinkham, global general manager and vice president of Wolverine Worldwide’s Hush Puppies brand, said First Insight’s testing, consumer insights and analytics have already helped drive sales for the brand internationally.

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“First Insight has helped us to better understand our international consumer desires, enabling us to optimize our global product offerings,” Pinkham said. “Additionally, by testing with different regions and leading with the winners, we are able to build confidence and increase sell-in with our international partners. With First Insight’s tools, we’re able to innovate faster and ensure our global partners are aligned on product, price points and marketing.”

Product assortment is playing a larger role in retail success, especially as consumers shop through a growing number of channels and trends shift rapidly. But during a recent Texworld USA session, Charlie Holmes, global vice president of First Insight, noted that many retailers still haven’t yet integrated their disparate technologies, which get in the way of proper demand planning. He also said that in this new environment, it has become the retailer’s job to localize the inventory based on shopper data, especially as demand changes seemingly by the minute.

“We really recommend to our customers to really focus your inventory on those styles that are going to be winners,” said Holmes. “Decrease your SKU count and get rid of things that might not resonate with the customers that they’re not finding value in, and increase your depth and those items that you know are going to be winners. You really want to be positioned on those items that you know that your customers want.”

In 2007, First Insight created its digital product testing solution, which was designed to enable brands and retailers to combine the customer feedback with advanced AI and predictive analytics to reduce risk in their assortments, focus on profitable products and improve their pricing strategies. Predictive feedback from consumers can be delivered in as little as 24 to 48 hours, First Insight says, giving companies a chance to bring the right products to market quickly.

Wolverine Worldwide is taking more of an initiative to get out ahead of the curve as more shoppers prefer running, hiking and outdoor activities. While the company saw a net loss of $1.9 million in the second quarter, it has made significant digital investments across its brands, implementing augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences within its online sites, and even considering Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that could allow consumers to gamify the experience of going on a hike, or tracking their progress on a run.

The changes thus far are being driven by Barry McGeough, the former PVH exec who in July was named as Wolverine’s vice president of advanced concepts and innovation. In the newly created role, McGeough will lead the company’s charge into leveraging new technologies, materials and other advancements to drive big ideas, product innovations and digital transformation improvements in the customer experience.

But that wasn’t even the biggest executive change for Wolverine Worldwide, with the footwear company earlier this month appointing former Vince Holding CEO Brendan Hoffman as its next president and member of its board of directors, expected to be effective on Sept. 8. Hoffman will report to Blake Krueger, Wolverine Worldwide’s current chairman, CEO and president. He is expected to transition over a period of time to become the future company CEO.

Wolverine Worldwide is a marketer and licensor of branded casual, active lifestyle, work, outdoor sport, athletic, children’s and uniform footwear and apparel. The company’s portfolio includes Merrell, Sperry, Hush Puppies, Saucony, Wolverine, Keds, Stride Rite, Chaco, Bates and Hytest. Additionally, the company is also the global footwear licensee of Cat and Harley-Davidson.