Being A Merchant


By Andy Jassin

Successful merchants are those who can read the room. They navigate the marketplace; they study the products, consumers, and trends. They focus on demographics and follow the customer without falling too far behind, and they always keep an eye out for the right moment to take the lead. Where many retailers miss the mark is complacency. It can be easy to rest on one’s laurels, particularly for well-established brands, or those with a well-worn niche to pull from; leaning on legacy without cultivating or keeping watch on the horizon for what’s next. To stay successful means to balance analytics and intuition. The next big thing could be just around the corner, and you don’t want to be the one playing catch-up.

The Summer of Love in 1967 was a watershed moment that marked a shift not just in music and politics but also in fashion and personal expression. Students returned from summer vacation completely transformed — preppy attire and Levi 501 jeans were replaced by bell-bottoms, headbands, and boho dresses. Artists like Jimi Hendrix and The Doors became fashion icons, setting trends that would be followed by millions. This seismic shift, amplified by the reach of television and portable radios, was a moment of economic and social change that remained unparalleled up until the digital age. The merchants, designers, and brands that paid attention are the ones who saw exponential growth, and those who didn’t were relegated to the proverbial dustbin of history. I have little doubt that the same will be true for today’s industry.

Once a cornerstone of American retail, department stores have seen significant decline— giving way to specialty stores, discounters, and e-commerce. This shift has had a profound impact on the role of the merchant, who had to adapt to new rules and play on this different, often virtual, field. While the game may have changed, many of the original players are still very much in it. Those that paid attention and made the effort, that is. Merchants today are not just sellers but curators of experiences. They need to understand not just fashion but also the consumer; they must be adaptable, looking ahead and sometimes leading the charge for change. Among the changes that have emerged within this new paradigm are new players; Influencers, with their massive social media followings, are active curators and sometimes creators of fashion.


The rise of new platforms, like TikTok and Instagram, has allowed for a democratization of the audience; roles that were once exclusive to seasoned merchants have now opened up to anyone with the reach and vision to act. The influencer as a merchant signifies a remarkable shift within the fashion industry. Allowing a diverse range of voices to contribute to the fashion discourse. This inclusivity has enriched the industry by bringing in fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a multitude of styles that cater to a diverse audience. However, the role of an influencer is not without its challenges. Like more traditional and longstanding merchants, success relies on their ability to balance their established brand against the ever-changing nature of trends. The digital age demands constant innovation, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the ever-evolving consumer pulse. Influencers must stay true to their unique style while keeping up with the forward, cyclical march of the fashion landscape. This ensures that their content, and products, remain relevant, engaging, and authentic.

As you can see, modern brands face a saturated retail landscape, dominated by an ever-growing plethora of online marketplaces and platforms. The rise of these platforms has strengthened the importance of strategic partnerships. Brands aiming to resonate with their target audience must align themselves with platforms, retailers, and influencers sharing similar visions and values if they are to ensure a seamless consumer experience.

Retailers and brands regularly engage in a dynamic interplay, meticulously selecting partnerships to enhance overall retail experiences. This symbiotic relationship demands collaboration, flexibility, and evolution to survive the ever-transforming retail environment.

Innovative retail spaces prioritize immersive, integrative experiences over mere transactions, building lasting connections in promising, if otherwise uncertain, marketplaces. The convergence of shopping, dining, and entertainment marks the advent of a holistic consumer experience. Crafting a narrative and telling a story helps to cement a customer’s relationship to the product and the brand.

The transformative shifts in the fashion industry over the years have accentuated, and even elevated, the role of merchants; emphasizing adaptability, vigilance, and a profound consumer understanding. Being a successful merchant means studying the marketplace meticulously, understanding the art involved in building (and rebuilding) teams, leveraging technology, and fostering mentorships. It’s about being strategically lucky and embracing adaptability and ongoing learning. Merchants need to transcend conventional roles to predict captivating consumer trends. They must be visionary architects, harmoniously weaving diverse professional interactions, market analysis, as well as the needs and whims of the customer; all to create a seamless fashion tapestry, focusing on consumers and their connection
with products.

Andy Jassin is founder and managing director of the esteemed Jassin Consulting Group, a leading strategic firm known for the development and implementation of innovative strategies designed to help clients thrive. Jassin took the opportunity of time at home during the pandemic to write “You’ll Know It When You See It,” his debut book which launched in June.

Andy Jassin

Ac Magazine is honored to share an excerpt here. Jassin was also instrumental in establishing The Fashion Service Network (FSN), a collaborative group that consists of senior level executives from the operational side of the industry who meet monthly to share insights and updates. The Accessories Council is a long-time member and often reaches out to FSN when our members need assistance. As FSN celebrates its 20th anniversary, there is no better time to acknowledge their contribution as one of the industry’s best kept secrets.