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Variety and Assortment in Retail: Breadth vs. Depth

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Breadth and depth considerations of an assortment of clothing.

Leading retailers know that an appealing variety and assortment in retail can draw in customers.

In fact, consumers rank the variety of assortment right behind location and price when naming reasons why they patronize their favourite stores. (Marketing Science). This includes not just the number of products available, but also the depth of merchandise.

Let’s explore the key concepts of variety and assortment in retail, and see how using modern technology as a best practice improves your retail offerings.

How breadth and depth of merchandise influence retail assortment

Breadth and depth of merchandise are often used to describe the variety and assortment of retail products a retailer makes available to consumers.

Breadth and depth are two essential dimensions of a retailer’s product mix.


Breadth refers to the range of different product categories.

For example, a shoe retailer may have a variety and assortment of various shoe categories such as:

    • Athletic
    • Dress shoes
    • Seasonal (boots and sandals)

These products are related, as they all fall under the category of footwear, but they range in the kind of footwear.


On the other hand, depth of merchandise refers to the number of different options available within a specific product category.

For example, as noted above, a shoe retailer who develops depth within the footwear category would offer various:

    • Styles
    • Sizes
    • Brands

So, a retailer with a good depth of merchandise would have many shoe options within a single category.

Take The Shoe Company for example. This omnichannel retailer carries all categories of shoes, running shoes, boots, sandals, and work boots–a wide breadth. And then it offers a depth of merchandise by providing many varieties of styles, sizes, and brands from various manufacturers within those categories.

Together, an excellent combination of both breadth and assortment depth satisfies consumer wants and leads to customer retention.

shopper purchasing from a store with good depth of merchandise
Now it may appear a relatively simple matter–just order a lot of everything to cover your bases.

However, that is a costly strategy.

Let’s see why.

Striking the right balance of breadth and depth of merchandise

The choice of breadth and depth for a retailer is determined by several factors:

    • Customer demand
    • Trends and seasonality
    • Available space
    • Competition
    • Cost and profitability
    • Inventory turns
    • Supplier relationships

When a major retailer gets the balance of breadth and depth of merchandise wrong, it can have costly consequences.

Insufficient breadth

Too narrow a product offering (insufficient breadth) and prospective customers will lose because you won’t have a variety of products that cater to their range of needs.

Insufficient depth

On the other hand, if you focus on too vast an array of product offerings with little depth, you could end up with a lot of product categories, but not enough options within each category–again a deterrent for consumers to shop with you.

Stockouts and overstocking

In a worst-case scenario, you could have both inadequate breadth and depth; leaving you with stockouts of popular items or overstocking of items that don’t sell. This means lost sales and wasted money on inventory.

Difficulty identifying trends

When it comes to assortment in retail, trends come and go. Identifying trends in advance and including them in your inventory assortment mix at the right time is difficult; especially if you are working from spreadsheets fraught with inventory forecasting issues.

To avoid all of these breadth and depth issues, you need help; and in modern-day retail, technology is usually the answer.

Add science to the art of variety and assortment in retail

Technology is moving leading retailers ahead by leaps and bounds as they implement various advanced analytics solutions to stay competitive and to improve the depth and breadth of their product assortment in key ways.

This includes

1. Demand forecasting

With AI-based demand forecasting you can predict and analyze your data and customer behavior to identify trends and patterns both historically and in the moment.

This is a huge asset because you can quickly make informed decisions to increase or decrease the depth and/or breadth of your inventory right down to the SKU / location level depending on what your AI-driven demand forecast reveals.

2. Assortment planning

When you need to predict assortment performance, AI-driven analytics lets you test “what-if” assortment scenarios. You can input changes to your assortment mix to see how those changes would impact your bottom line, such as removing category to breadth or adding depth by increasing variations of that product.

3. Supply chain management

You can now manage inventory levels and logistics more efficiently in your supply chain because of the efficiencies artificial intelligence analytics has introduced. With a more efficient and better-managed supply chain, you can provide a consistent breadth and depth of products to your customers.

4. E-commerce platforms

E-commerce continues to grow at phenomenal rates. Without limitation of space and 24 hours a day, you can showcase expansive inventory breadth and depth.

employee explaining depth of merchandise
A combination of all of these technology solutions helps you improve the depth and breadth of your product assortment.

Variety is the spice of retail

The right depth and breadth of products will create an appealing variety and assortment of inventory for your customers and will keep them coming back.

You can develop the right combination of breadth and depth in your merchandise if you use  modern technology, like AI-based analytics, to fine-tune your:

    • Demand forecasting
    • Assortment planning
    • Supply chain management
    • E-commerce platforms

Ultimately, achieving the right balance between breadth and depth is essential for retailers to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace.

If you’re not sure you have the right breadth and depth of inventory in your assortment mix, we can help you find it. Contact our Team for a Demo.

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