Scrambled Merchandising

Learning Objectives

  • Define scrambled merchandising

Scrambled merchandising refers to a retail tactic in which a retailer broadens their assortment to include items that are generally outside their focus or are usually sold in a different retail format. It might be easiest to think about scrambled merchandising by considering it in practice. For example, think about how the traditional grocery store has evolved to a supermarket format that sells magazines, books, toys, seasonal decorations, housewares, hardware, and so on. In none of these cases does the supermarket carry a wide variety of items in the specific departments compared to specialty retailers. However, they carry enough to have a presence in the category to benefit the shopper through contact efficiency.

When done well, scrambled merchandising adds to the shopping experience rather than distracting from it. Consider the example of Kohl’s department stores. They offer limited food items to complement their kitchenware offerings. This works because the items are complementary to one another. Another example is a sandwich deli that is known for its delicious handmade sandwiches that starts selling wine, olives, and crackers. Scrambled merchandising, in these examples, help expand the retail offerings of the store without detracting from its reputation.

When retailers experiment with scrambled merchandising, they are trying to become more of a one-stop-shop for their customers. For instance, let’s say that a well-known clothing retail store starts offering nonperishable groceries. If customers who are shopping for clothes may also purchase some of their grocery items, the store is increasing its appeal to customers. A place where you would normally purchase a sweater or pajamas may also be the store where you buy your family’s groceries for that week.

The risk in this strategy comes when unexpected items are included in the assortment that confuse shoppers. When this occurs, it can detract from the shopper’s experience and tarnish the retailer’s brand image. Furthermore, if the new products aren’t appreciated or shopped, they can risk high inventory, leading to markdowns and write-offs. Most stores limit their complementary categories in order to maintain their brand. It’s a risk, and thus, scrambled merchandising should be approached cautiously and leveraged only as a complement to the current assortment.

Can you think of a scrambled merchandising example where you’ve noticed new products at a retail establishment?

Practice Questions