The Migration to Retail S&OP

Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) has been considered a best practice in the manufacturing industry for the past 25 years. Initially started as a process to balance demand and supply, retail S&OP has evolved to a more robust Integrated Business Planning (IBP) process that links Strategic Plans, with product portfolio reviews and new product introductions, unconstrained demand plans, supply plans and capabilities, and financial appraisals of the Integrated Business Plans over a planning horizon of 24 months or more.

Significant benefits, both financial and strategic, have been the result of S&OP implementations in the manufacturing sector. However, in the retail sector, S&OP has not been adopted or at least not adopted in what would be defined as Class A Best Practices. This is currently causing the Retail Supply Chain network to remain unpredictable, minimizing some of the benefits a retail supplier would see from S&OP as well as the benefits a retailer would see if it adopted retail S&OP Class A Best Practices.

This article on Retail S&OP will describe recent developments with retail’s migration towards integrated business planning implementations. In detail, we will discuss:

1) Why Retail S&OP?

2) What is Retail S&OP (in detail)?

3) The impact of Retail S&OP on the retailer and the retailer’s suppliers.

The Role of Effective Integrated Business Planning and Communication

Retail S&OP is a step-by-step process that includes monthly reviews, product reviews, and category management. Before it was introduced, however, plans were always kept on the short term horizon, a nightmare for effective planning initiatives. Today, VICS, or Voluntary Inter-industry Commerce Solutions, is a standards body that almost every major corporation, such as Walmart, Lowe’s, and Target, abides by. Before VICS introduced these best practice measures, suppliers were pushed to implement integrated business planning in some form or another into their existing processes – whether they worked or not – in order to reduce costs and encourage in-house efficiency. Essentially, it was to keep up with the competition.

Reciprocation and trust remain vital in keeping the supply chain strong, but these elements have to trickle down to every stepping stone for integrated business planning to work. With VICS heading up retail S&OP initiatives, the process established a more direct approach to integrated business planning, at least two years out, that involved all partners and links in the chain. Information was shared to promote reciprocation. With a more proactive sharing strategy in place, companies using retail S&OP are often more adept at balancing and forecasting supply and demand and product launches, making the entire retail supply chain significantly less reactive and, thereby, saving money for everyone involved.

The product itself benefits from better integrated business planning strategies. In order to decide which new product will in fact be launched or promoted, the merchandising group draws up a monthly review to chart out a course of action. But planning doesn’t stop at the monthly level since many buyers plan well in advance of a year. Clothing purchases can occur eighteen months out; stores change layouts; aisles get wider; and promotional activities are scheduled — this all takes months and manpower to plan. However, if this information is shared in advance, suppliers can plan appropriately.

Some of this shared information comes from various sources, such as the store replenishment group, who indentifies in-store demand. Point of Sale (POS) is another useful retail tool that can scan and record purchases and, therefore, help forecast demand. It’s the responsibility of the warehouse management and logistic transportation group to collaborate to figure out lead time as well as how much inventory should be kept in stock. Routine supply review aggregates this detailed information to ensure there is enough product in the right place at the right time. And, as would be expected, there are significant cost improvements here. Retail S&OP helps avoid supply chain disasters, while keeping necessary merchandise in stock. Too much stock on hand equates to money sitting in limbo, while an extended shelf life requires products to be returned to the manufacturer or, worse, become dated.

The Future of Integrated Business Planning in the Retail Industry

Issues are bound to arise, but any problems should be resolved at the lowest level before being escalated. Potential concerns may center on building new distribution centers, declines in demand, or poor promotions. If questions remain, any financial appraisals can be done by the CFO or executive team, based, of course, on monthly reviews that forecast profit.

Company executives will be looking at the business over the next twenty four months, primarily at the aggregate level, to make sure that the company is going in the right direction. During each strategic meeting, executives will expect retail S&OP to work in this capacity, while hoping to avoid the Bull Whip effect. (In a nutshell, this means if you were to break out the different links in the supply chain and look at each individual product, it would be fairly predictable. If you were to go to different links of supply chain and look at orders between each link, such as supplier to store, the image starts to look like a bull whip, vacillating and unsteady. However, the farther one gets away from the retail store link, the more the bull whip fluctuates up and down.)

You may be wondering what’s next for integrated business planning in retail. Above all, collaboration is the key to success. CPFR(R)(1), or Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment, an industry standard of VICS, helps steady the Bull Whip, eliminating many of the emergencies or issues. Integrated business planning also ensures that fires are extinguished at the source. Just remember that the biggest sin in retail is to disappoint customers with ‘out of stock’ notices – largely preventable with a methodical approach to retail S&OP.


1. CPFR(R) is a Registered Trademark of the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards (VICS) Association.