Category Roles: Why All Categories Are NOT Created Equal

Here’s why you shouldn’t treat all your categories the same…

Imagine a retailer who sells hundreds of categories and treats each of them exactly the same – including decisions on assortment, shelving, promotions and pricing. Remember – equal treatment would require the same number of resources and time spent against every category.

Sound like a good idea?

Absolutely not! Retailers need to assign roles across categories to get a broad look at their category mix, determine the category’s relative importance, and apply similar tactical strategies across categories with the same role. This is an important foundation of their overall Retailer strategy.

Here are some great resources from CMKG for you to get started on your learning journey:

Category Roles: 

Before you determine roles for your categories, consider these 3 factors.

1. Category roles are assigned at a strategic corporate level

Assigning roles to categories requires broad perspective across a Retailer’s category mix to determine the category’s relative importance. This view will vary by channel, format and banner. In the Convenience channel, there are completely different role definitions (derived by NACS), driven by the significant differences in a Convenience store shopping trip.

For Retailers, categories that may play a destination role in a large Grocery format may have little importance in their Convenience format (think about Laundry Detergents as an example). These differences in roles will also affect the tactics at a category level.

Vendors need to understand that assigning category roles is based on the relative importance of the category to the total store – and not the relative importance of their brands to their total brand portfolio for the Retailer. If you think your category is destination, consider if it is in the top 15% of category sales for the total retail store (if it’s not then it’s most likely not destination).

2. Category roles help determine the strategic layout for your stores

Retailers need to think about how the Shopper will move through their store and figure out how to get them moving up and down the aisles (vs perimeter shopping only). Their overall plan should direct traffic flow so that Shoppers will shop the entire store.

You can balance and manage Shopper traffic flow by placing categories strategically within identified destination roles throughout the store and surrounding them with related routine and impulse categories.

Category Roles Affect Store Layout

3. Category roles set the stage for assortment, pricing and merchandising strategies

Retailers need to establish their own strategic guidelines and principles across the tactics based on the role that is assigned. For example, destination categories may have a broader assortment, more promotional activity and more competitive market pricing strategies. By applying these strategies broadly across categories within a specific role, it makes a Category Manager’s job much easier when they are making tactical choices for their categories.

To summarize — category roles are an important part of a Retailer’s strategic category management foundations. By assigning these roles and formalizing the tactical guidelines for each role, it ensures a more aligned and consistent approach to categories across the store.

If you’d like more information on Category Roles, we have a certified category management training course that will walk you through these 3 factors and more, so you can make the best decisions on assigning category roles.




Link to Purchase “Category Roles” Category Management Training Course

$125 USD

30-day Access



Reference Guide

Knowledge Checks

Course Test


Topics: Retailer Solutions, Category Management (CatMan), Category Definition Work

Written by Sue Nicholls, CPSA Founder & President CMKG

Category Management is my passion. Since beginning with P&G in the late 1980s, I have dedicated my work life to building and sharing this passion with others through active involvement in the industry, including long-term business relationships with large Retailer and CPG executives, development and influence on Category Management Association certification standards, curriculum, and conference education, thought leadership publishing and presentations at CSP News’ Convenience University, CMA’s Annual Conference and LinkedIn, and as a member of DePaul University’s Center for Sales Leadership Advisory Board, and Western Michigan University’s Food Marketing Advisory Board. Beginning in 2019, our catalogue of accredited training that my team and I have developed is part of the Category Management Association’s strategic education initiative for all member organizations. Always anticipating where the industry is moving and the skills needed to compete and stay relevant, I’ve helped to bridge the gap between data and insights pioneering the way we use storytelling and data visualization to better understand analytics and make effective decisions for the future. Using my years of experience, I coach clients of all experience levels in the Retail, Manufacturer, and Solution Provider industries to help them propel forward achieving both their learning and career goals whether in eCommerce, sales, or marketing and beyond. My specialty lies in leadership and engagement, networking and consulting with individuals and large companies from around the world to better improve and develop our curriculum and accredited training programs, like our leading-edge Master’s Training, utilized by CatMan organizations for strategic education. Through this blog and other channels, I share my years of expertise with our industry and believe that an open and ongoing conversation can improve any team’s capacity to implement business strategies that achieve their strategic priorities.