What's Keeping Category Managers Awake at Night?

What's Keeping Category Managers Awake at Night?

Shoppers’ needs and expectations are evolving, and so are retailers as the market becomes more competitive. Category Managers are now facing new challenges.

Most of the time being a Category Manager can be incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of helping your brand excel and grow. Most Category Managers can influence and lead change. And let’s face it, in most organisations, being a manager means a better compensation package. However, there’s a price to pay, and being a Category Manager means you also have to deal with the tough issues that can cause you to lose sleep at night.

I've been exploring the major worries and concerns of Category Managers and other key retail professionals.

Based on a recent literature review and available research, what follows is a summary of my findings, which I for one find very interesting. There's also a range of steps to reduce the stress of Category Management in 2023.

The top 5 things keeping Category Managers awake at night are:

pie chart showing top 5 things worrying category managers - biggest is fear of failure
Top 5 things worrying category managers

1. Continuous Uncertainty

People tend to seek reassurance and answers from leaders in times of uncertainty, however it isn’t always easy to provide them in this unpredictable day and age. The C-Suite are struggling to deal with their own anxieties of living in a tumultuous world.

Making time to reflect and be present themselves whilst reassuring colleagues, clients and consumers is a priority. Boards and executive teams need to create the space to think proactively and further than the current quarter.

2. Fear of Failure

We can all feel unstable, unsure and insecure but those in senior positions have been increasingly stifling their own feelings of doubt, for fear of it showing them up to be weak or unsuccessful during turbulent times in particular.

For many they are feeling the need to conceal their uncertainty not just to their people but also to the Board. They are also trying to create transparency, honesty and openness within the workplace because they know that this builds trust.

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."

3. Managing Risk

There were two types of increased risk, voiced as major current issues: Regulation and reputational. Some Managers admit that the default position of the 1990s, of doing whatever you could get away with has changed.

Today, businesses will avoid a scandal at all costs for fear of detrimental consequences on reputation, brand, demand and payment. Nobody wants to end up on the wrong side of the regulators but this can create a double-edged sword because over caution about regulatory contraventions is causing risk aversion, lack of innovation and is curbing creativity.

4. Pricing/promotion pressure

Every brick-and-mortar retailer has seen it: The savvy customer standing in the aisles engaging in real-time comparison-shopping on their smartphone. With empowerment like that, it’s no surprise that retailers feel the pressure of pricing; not just to appeal to customers, but to compete with the retailer down the street and with e-commerce sites too.

Another cause of insomnia: the ability of some giant retailers to thrive on slim profit margins, like Walmart’s 2.66%, or threadbare margins, like Amazon. Brick-and-mortar retailers who can collect, quantify, and utilise customer data and price dynamically.

5. Dealing with competition

This has always been an integral aspect of brand marketing and management life. But today Category and Brand Managers are expressing worries about new brands. The nightmare that has taken on monster-in-the-closet status is 'keeping consumers engaged with my brand', which increased by 11% over the past three years.

If you combine that brand expectation inflation with the terror of new brands entering the marketplace, you can understand why Category and Brand managers face sleepless nights.

Challenges Category Managers face

Shoppers’ needs and expectations are evolving, and so are retailers as the market becomes more competitive. Over and above the loss of sleep issues already summarised, here are an additional five challenges currently faced by Category Managers, along with a series of solutions based thought starters.

Meaningful insight – what retailers crave and appreciate

With their sophisticated data sales analyses, retailers could be perceived as ‘having all the answers'. But frankly they don’t. There’s a phrase that states:

"Make the important things measurable as opposed to making measurable things appear important."

Take time to identify and understand the gaps in retailer knowledge that you can positively contribute to filling.

For example, a lot of data deals with ‘the what’, but there remains a dearth of clear understanding as to a lot of ‘the why’. And this is where progressive Category Managers can certainly help, albeit with the right expert support.

Understand the shopper as well as the category

Retailers have more data and insight than ever before. Therefore, brands run the risk of simply duplicating what they retailer already knows. Category Managers should aim to design, develop and deliver new and different perspectives on their category and the shoppers/ shopping of it.

Although retailers have lots of data points, Category managers can enhance this by providing broader shopper insight on shopper behaviour and shopper psychology, both within and beyond the category and retailer.

Quality time with the retailer

Brands are always keen to get quality time with retailers. But this has often been a challenge and was made worse during the pandemic. It would appear that even now the world has ‘reopened’ getting quality time remains a real challenge for brands.

I have heard for a while now, that what retailers seek is genuine ‘new news’. Therefore, it might be worth considering new and more meaningful (for the retailer) ways to meet in person. Conducting store visits and observing shoppers really shopping is both a very thought-provoking exercise and an activity that is best conducted in-store.

Quite often, retailers simply don't spend quality time in-store, so why not take them to stores and jointly observe what really happens in the field?

Flexibility and responsiveness

The last couple of years has seen incredible changes globally. Therefore, Category strategies and plans need to be reviewed and often refined to make sure they are still relevant. Category Managers need to predict changes and include the changes in their plans.

Category Managers should be seen as sources of expertise where it comes to seeing the changes in category and then addressing the most appropriate ways of addressing them.

Losing sleep at night

Finally, just as Category Managers are grappling with uncertainty, fear, risk aversion and pressures, retailers too are lying awake at night.

Be on the look out for retailers exhibiting tell-tale signs including a resistance to any change, procrastination and a propensity to focus on potential downside as opposed to seeing positive Category opportunities .

Adcock Solutions have been improving the marketing communications of leading brands and retailers for more than 25 years. We explain how shoppers, consumers, Category Managers and Buyers think and make decisions so that you can engage with them more effectively.

Come to us for Behavioural Science insights and expertise that improve your brand's visibility, appeal, engagement, and sales.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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