Aislinn Lea, Head of Fashion & Non-Food, Excel Recruitment

How to do a great SWOT analysis

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is a common and important part of job interviews for retail management but often interviewees can struggle with where to start or what to say. Our Head of Fashion and Non- Food Retail Aislinn Lea tells us everything we need to know..

A strong SWOT is a fantastic way of showcasing your experience and skills, along with your commercial awareness and can put you miles ahead of the other candidates. We’ve broken down each section of the SWOT and (provided handy templates) in detail here, but this blog will take you through how to approach you SWOT, what to look out for and what to avoid.

Where do I start?

Preparation is key with a SWOT. Your consultant will be able to tell you what the interviewer will be expecting- how to present it, the depth of analysis required and what store (if there’s more than one) you should conduct your analysis in. It may be a good idea to visit the store two or three times during different trading times to get a full picture of the store’s commercial day. Look at both the store and the surrounding area and visit other stores in the area, to see the differences. Make detailed notes about what you see/ don’t see and if possible, take pictures.

What am I looking for?

Break your SWOT down into the four sections and deal with each separately. For the Strengths section, break it down into store strengths and company strength and then again by customer service, visual merchandising and overall store standards. Deal with the weaknesses section in the same way. This ensures you don’t miss anything and show the interviewer you notice details while being a well-rounded manager.

The opportunities and threats section of your SWOT will come directly from your observations on both the store’s weaknesses and the surrounding area. Split this into short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives with clear, actionable suggestions on how to address/ capitalise on them. The most important thing is to keep store-specific and makes reference to the location, customer profile, local market and nearby competitors that affect the individual store directly.

How do I present it?

This will depend on the company you’re interviewing with, some will want an elaborate and engaging Powerpoint while others will simply want you to have a few notes that you then talk through verbally. Either way, use bullet points rather than chunks of text and elaborate on them at the interview. Have an action plan to hand, discussing how you would tackle what you’ve highlighted in your SWOT and a timeline.

What should I not do?

Don’t be too generic in your analysis and ensure the points you are making are specific to the store and the role you’re interviewing for. Your SWOT analysis should be conducted with the individual store’s location, demographics, resources etc. at the forefront of your mind.

Another thing I often see is people try so hard to not be overly-critical that they end up leaving out key issues. While it’s important not to be too harsh about the business or the brand, if there is an issue the interviewer is aware of but you don’t discuss, they’ll presume you missed it in your observations.

Want a Career as a Merchandise Planner?

Thinking about a Career as a Merchandise Planner? Excel’s Retail Head Office Consultant Sarah Hurley takes you through everything you need to know…

Merchandise Planning is a relatively new function within Irish buying offices but is just as exciting, fast-paced and rewarding a career as Retail Buying. Merchandise Planners are high in demand. They have a unique skillset and niche expertise and are rewarded with competitive salaries and benefits, a broad career path and numerous choices and plentiful job opportunities with the biggest retailers.

What is a Merchandise Planner?

Merchandise Planners operate a crucial function within a retail Head Office. They work side by side with Buyers to plan, execute and deliver ranges.

What do they do?

People often explain merchandise planning as getting the right merchandise, in the right place, at the right time, in the right quantities at the right price to maximise sales and to minimise markdown. With the buyer, they will look at past performance and future trends, to predict what items will sell best and plan accordingly.

Right Merchandise – Styles, brands, colours, sizes

Right Place – Which store, depending on their budget and location

Right Time – Having merchandise in stores at the right time in the season i.e. ready for Christmas or ‘Back to School’

Right Quantities – Enough for the stores to make their budgets but not have to markdown stock at the end of the season

The Right Price £££– Those that will attract customers in over the competition yet generate a reasonable return on investment for the retailer i.e. profit

What do you need?

Merchandise Planners are in demand because they have a unique blend of skills-

Analytical skills – enjoy analysing data and using this to identify trends and potential risks and opportunities

Communication skills – Must be able to communicate this data and trends to people and build great relationships with suppliers and in-store teams.

Quick thinking– Retail is incredibly fast-paced and merchandise planners need to be quick thinking to spot trends, evaluate large amounts of data and make sound decisions. Things can change very quickly and there are always deadlines to meet.

Commercial Awareness – you need to understand what is going on in the marketplace, your competitors and be able to spot gaps and opportunities

How do you get started?

Most Merchandise Planners come from either a fashion buying & merchandising course or a business/finance related degree and have a mix of both retail and office based experience. Graduates will start their careers as an Allocator or Assistant Merchandiser and work their way up. Opportunities exist within the fashion and non-fashion retail and open up a broad and varied career path.