Retail Systems Playing Greater Role In Tough Times

By Tedra Meyer and Alan Wolf On Oct 14 2002 - 6:00am




Given what's gearing up to be a price-competitive Christmas, retailers will likely be relying more than ever on back office systems to improve efficiencies and bolster the bottom line.

The point was brought home recently at Genco Distribution System's ninth annual Closed Loop Supply Chain Management Conference, held last month in Atlanta. According to Herb Shear, chairman/CEO of the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based reverse logistics resource, "In this uncertain economy, it's more important than ever to manage the supply chain intelligently."

"Until recently," he continued, "many companies viewed supply chain management, especially the handling of returned merchandise, as little more than an expensive nuisance. But recent innovations have opened up new ways to use the supply chain to cut costs and even improve profitability."

Key trends highlighted at the conference, which drew attendees such as Kmart, Sears and Target, included mass customization postponement, a new process by which a value-added service center customizes a manufacturer's product just before shipping. This allows for last-minute changes in response to customer demand, and can cut inventory costs by upwards of 15 percent, Genco said.

Other retail management innovations were discussed during GERS Retail Systems' annual Retail World gathering, held this past August in San Diego. According to GERS executive VP/marketing Don VanderBeke, much of the focus was on the company's Customer 1, a stand-alone, front-end, point-of-service retail management solution that enables real-time sales and order management transactions.

The system connects customers, orders and inventory via multiple devices and interfaces (including traditional cash registers, kiosks, call centers, browsers and PDAs) over multiple communication channels (including LAN, WAN and the Internet).

By integrating multiple sales channels, Customer 1 helps deliver a consistent, seamless experience that allows customers to shop when and how they want, GERS said.

At the same time, real-time transaction processing and updating makes sales, returns inventory transactions and availability, delivery schedules, and customer account transactions accessible in real time, enabling retailers to make more accurate and timely decisions.

The improved operational efficiencies can help reduce retailers' expenses, GERS noted, and the resulting improvements in customer service could lead to greater customer loyalty.

Besides retailers, attendees at Retail World also included some 40 GERS vendor partners. Among them were:

  • Logical, an IT solutions provider based in Bellevue, Wash., with offices throughout the United States. A division of Datatec Ltd., it helps retailers develop and maintain infrastructures necessary for e-commerce sites. Logical partners with a number of hardware and software manufacturers to offer retailers customized network systems. For more info, call (248) 335-8700 or see www.us.logical.com.

  • Symbol Technologies, based in Holtsville, N.Y., offers a variety of scanners with different data-capturing abilities. These scanners can be used by retailers at checkout as well as for stockroom tasks. For more info, call (800) 722-6234.

Also aiding CE and majaps dealers in this challenging retail environment is Parsippany, N.J.-based Storis. The company's core applications include a wide spectrum of software, from point-of-sale and inventory to A/P G/L. Storis also offers over 20 companion products, each tailored to meet specific dealer needs, that integrate seamlessly with core applications. These include:

  • Storis Data Warehouse (SDW), a powerful database model that significantly enhances a manager's ability to rapidly analyze very large data sets utilizing the Microsoft SQL Server relational database.

  • Contact Management, which enables salespeople to manage leads while providing management with advanced reporting tools to better and more consistently evaluate salesperson performance.

  • iCALL, a new, easy to use voice processing module that converts Storis delivery schedules into human voice delivery messages for customers, informing them of backorders, C.O.D. amount and when to expect deliveries, and which also responds to customer inquiries.

  • eStoris, a Web platform that allows retailers to manage their online efforts, be they e-tail or informational, while providing shoppers with around-the-clock access. Additionally, eStoris allows retail clients to control the product information they wish to display on the Internet without having to create and maintain two separate and distinct computer systems.

  • An Intranet Module that can track the number of customers that enter a store, the closing ratios of the entire sales force, and other pertinent information regarding salesperson productivity, while importing and archiving multiple Storis reports and instantly sending critical company questions to the entire staff.

Meanwhile, retailers are also reaching out to suppliers to help with their in-store presentations. Best Buy, looking for a way to integrate its cross-platform HDTV assortment, recently tapped Riverdale, N.Y.'s Key Digital Systems to "glue" its multi-vendor sets together.

The company's 12-channel KD-CDA12 component distribution amplifier, which copped an Innovation 2002 award from the Consumer Electronics Association, is being employed in all 560 Best Buy stores as a main HDTV signal distribution component. The unit was recommended by Toshiba for its ability to drive two different signal sources with 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios to two different sets of HDTV monitors, and Best Buy said it was impressed by the resulting increase in picture performance.

Elsewhere in the industry, Triversity Inc., a Toronto-based retail software company, earlier this year extended its point-of-sale/point-of-interaction (POS/POI) solution to Java. The result, it says, is the first Java 2 Enterprise Edition transaction processing foundation for the retail enterprise. The product, Transactionware Enterprise, provides a framework for a suite of customer-centric applications integrating all points of integration across the enterprise to create a single, multi-channel customer relationship platform.

Transactionware Enterprise is one element of Triversity's Customer Chain Management solutions suite that includes a host of POI, sales operations and analytical systems. Together, these products can aid retailers by driving top-line revenues, reducing infrastructure costs, providing key business analytics and improving employee hiring and retention, the company said.

Also breaking new ground was Germany's Wincor Nixdorf, which held what it called the retail industry's first peripheral interoperability demonstration last June during the Retail Systems Expo at Chicago's McCormick Place. The demonstration underscored the interoperability enabled by current industry standards by connecting peripheral products from seven different vendors to Wincor Nixdorf's BEETLE/S POS platform and Powered USB hub via both JavaPOS and OPOS drivers, powered RS232, non-powered RS232, Powered USB and standard USB.

Another area that has added value to retail operations is product information management (PIM), which optimizes the demand chain by enabling merchants to strategically leverage product information assets across the enterprise and externally to partners, customers, sales offices and other parties. The net effect, explains San Francisco-based Trigo, is lower operational costs, better customer service and new revenue streams.

Case in point: Staples. Trigo's Enterprise system manages the content of the office supply store's multiple e-catalogs, each of which promotes nearly 8,000 SKUs and is customized to specific client needs.

Pricing is extracted as a flat file from an AS/400, and the file is uploaded using Trigo. From the AS/400, Trigo also provides automatic request and retrieval of SKUs and pricing, as well as automatic detection of SKU updates.

The result, say the partners, is a one-stop solution that reduces human capital and IT investments, eliminates ongoing maintenance and supply costs, and provides new, large-scale online opportunities.

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