How much merchandising autonomy should store managers have?

The question in my headline pertains to a RetailWire discussion about Abercrombie & Fitch. Apparently, A&F has decided to allow its stores managers to make their own decisions about placing merchandise, as part of an overall effort to boost morale. I have mixed feelings about the unintended consequences of this idea:

This is a tough question for merchants looking for some consistency from store to store, especially in a cookie-cutter format like A&F. Yes, it’s important to give store managers limited autonomy as they see what’s selling — but it’s at least as important for a retailer’s “big ideas” to be given the space and location that headquarters intended when the buys were made. (This is spoken as an ex-merchant, if you couldn’t tell.) Customers need and want some direction about what to buy, too, so the store managers’ changes ought to be data-driven and in collaboration with the merchandising team.

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