Skills and knowledge required for merchandising professionals in the South African apparel retail industry
The purpose of this study was to investigate skills and knowledge for merchandising professionals in the South African apparel retail industry. An exploratory, sequential mixed method research design was implemented in two phases. Phase I followed a phenomenological approach focused on: (a) examining merchandising positions and responsibilities and (b) identifying skills and knowledge required for apparel merchandising professionals to fulfill their positions and perform their responsibilities. Data were collected through semi-structured individual in-depth interviews from a purposive sample of 16 merchandising professionals employed within the South African retail industry. The successive Phase II employed an adaptive conjoint analysis survey to prioritize the skills and knowledge identified in Phase I. A total of 172 merchandising professionals completed the electronic, self-administered survey generated through Sawtooth Software Inc.
The results of the individual interviews revealed that four distinct positions in the South African retail industry correspond with merchandising positions suggested in international literature. In most retailers, merchandising departments consisted of discrete positions such as buyers, planners, product developers, and sourcing coordinators that perform a range of complex responsibilities to execute the product and profit strategy of retailers. Analysis of interviews identified 29 skills and knowledge types and 116 individual skills and knowledge dimensions describing the types, that merchandising professionals need to do their jobs.
The 29 skills and knowledge types were prioritized based on their relative importance score (RIS) ranging from 4.55 - 1.57. With communication receiving the highest RIS (4.55) and sustainability the lowest RIS (1.57). The average utility value of individual dimensions determined the most important ones to have within each skills and knowledge type. Fifty-eight individual skills and knowledge dimensions with positive average utility values were retained, that were deemed important for merchandising professionals in the South African retail industry. Based on the prioritized merchandising skills and knowledge in Phase II, an apparel merchandising competency framework, developed from on extensive analyses of extant studies, was adapted specifically for the South African retail industry. The apparel merchandising competency framework provided a typology for organizing the prioritized merchandising skills and knowledge required for merchandising professionals in the South African apparel retail industry.
This study contributes to the literature in terms of skills and knowledge required for apparel merchandising professionals in the 21st century and the importance of competent professionals in a consumer-led and profit driven industry such as apparel retail. The apparel merchandising competency framework, that to date was not available in theory, is a valuable tool for educators, industry, and government. The framework (a) is apparel merchandising specific; (b) indicates the priority of skills and knowledge that should be stressed in curricula and professional development and where to allocate resources; and (c) can be adapted to the ever-changing needs and requirements of the apparel industry.