How Brands Enable Smarter Retail Merchandising with AI technology


AI technology enables real time shelf action recommendations to field reps, leading to out of stock reduction and increased productivity.

Direct-distributed brands rely on the diligence of their field merchandising representatives to ensure their products are stocked, re-ordered, priced, and promoted in each store location.

Merchandising plans created and communicated from headquarters assume a degree of uniformity among store locations, but in reality, each is unique. The power of the direct-distribution system is largely its ability to respond to situations in each store. Its vulnerability is the distance between the people who guide the brand at headquarters and the heroes who execute in the field.

AI technology has brought a major step forward to improve shelf execution for direct-distributed brands. The ability to use digital shelf images to guide the activities of field reps in real time changes the game by capturing accurate information and returning immediate guidance during the store visit.

This process, called Best Shelf Action, supports and enables field merchandising reps to perform better. It improves compliance and reduces out-of-stocks by making field visits more efficient and more accurate. It is bringing benefits now to snack foods, beverage and tobacco brands, and its potential application spans nearly every category in the store.

What is Best Shelf Action?

In essence Best Shelf Action is an information-driven process in which an automated AI intelligent advisor helps field merchandising reps perform tasks better and bring back information that is more complete, more timely and more accurate. Best Shelf Action breaks down into three main steps:

  • Capture. The field merchandising representative captures information on shelf conditions at each store visit by snapping digital images with their mobile device and uploading them to the cloud for rapid AI analysis
  • Communicate. The AI intelligent advisor processes the images to assess actual shelf conditions, evaluates alternatives, and communicates Best Shelf Actions to the rep within a minute so they can be completed during the same visit.
  • Confirm. The rep confirms execution of the completed Actions by snapping digital images of the updated shelf set. Data rolls up to the management level for monitoring KPIs.

What makes shelf execution different and hard?

Direct delivery brands are familiar with the limitations of execution management tools for ensuring high-quality store merchandising. The retail setting is unlike a factory setting. Field merchandising is not repetitive assembly-line work. Each store and shelf set presents different conditions on every visit. That means each visit demands a different set of specific actions – including audits, re-stocking, repricing, and generating new orders.

The heroes of the process – the field reps – are tasked not just with carrying out set plans, but also with gathering information about shelf conditions and making on-the-fly adjustments during the store visit. To perform very well at shelf merchandising, reps must apply their minds as well as their hands to the tasks. Best Shelf Action lightens the decision burden.

The Best Shelf Action difference

  • Lightens the decision burden for field merchandisers so they can focus on the hands-on job.
  • Super-simple capture of shelf conditions upon arrival by uploading photos snapped with the rep’s mobile phone or tablet camera.
  • Best Shelf Action, powered by AI, analyzes the shelf and recommends within seconds, prioritized tasks to be completed.

Zoom in on benefits

Consumer product brands in the salty snack and tobacco categories are already recognizing important benefits applying the Best Shelf Action approach in the convenience store setting. Early results indicate they are finding and correcting more out-of-stocks, improving pricing compliance and compliance with store planograms, and shortening the time for each store visit.

Correcting lost sales due to OOS alone can more than justify the investment, and time saved can add up to significant productivity gains. In addition, store level price management helps capture better margins.

Smarter merchandising with Best Shelf Action lightens the decision burden on field reps and enables them to do an impeccable hands-on job at the shelf.

For brand marketers, smarter field merchandising with Best Shelf Action does more than address daily store level in-stock and compliance tasks – it also captures vital insights on store level performance which may be used to identify issues with the supply chain, shelf capacity, and better understand promotion outcomes.

AI technology enables real time shelf action recommendations to field reps, leading to out of stock reduction and increased productivity.
Praveen Gopalakrishnan

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