Internet Merchandising Makes Real-Time a Reality, April 7, 2003
Most mass merchandisers use third party retail merchandising. They want a team of specialists handling displays, inventories, posters, returns, replenishments and more for many high-volume items. There's comfort in knowing it's done quickly and done right, and there's extra profit when customers can find what they are looking for-especially with heavily advertised and time sensitive products.
Some retail merchandising companies are pushing the envelope today with technological advances and real-time operations. These leaders are employing powerful Internet and communications technologies to perfect their programs and deliver blazing speed, control, knowledge and completion to mass merchandiser chains.
With many projects, engagements can be planned on the Internet, merchandising specialists can be assigned to stores, displays and inventory can be scheduled and store-specific plan-o-grams can be sent. When specialists complete their tasks, they can report via hand-held computers and upload them so clients can see what the store levels look like without ever leaving their office.
For example, at SPAR Group, Inc., everything can be put online so that the chain and the manufacturer can see a U.S. map containing thousands of their stores as red dots. As each store is merchandised in real-time, those dots turn green in real-time. This demonstrates the power of a speedy national rollout. And it is unvarnished data-the real thing as it's really happening.
Real-time reporting replaces phoned in data and mailed in reports. The traditional retail merchandising industry merchandising still assembles data by hand and issues reports five or more days after project completion.
With old-fashioned reporting, it is impossible to correct problems, such as display didn't arrive at store A; there's no power near the display in Store B; the manager at Store C wants it positioned elsewhere; or there isn't any shelving in Store D to complete the plan-o-gram. Under the traditional system, everyone learns the problems several days or weeks later-after the promotion is over!
But real-time technology makes real-time issue resolution possible. Under the real-time issue tracking system, the field staff flashes an Internet alert to its management team. Supervisors then work with their specialists, the chain, the display builder, the CPG manufacturer and anyone else necessary to resolve the issue. It remains a red flag in the system until it is resolved. This way, nothing is missed and an entire chain can be fully merchandised and reported in one or two days.
In another advance, real-time technology can order replinishments that help eliminate out-of-stocks. Analytical software can track product sales and anticipate out-of-stock situations before they happen. An automatic deployment system triggers merchandising specialists to return to given stores on certain dates and replenish inventory. This is especially valuable for holidays, weekends and for certain new products that are selling well.
Mass merchandisers and consumer packaged goods manufacturers are impressed with these new technologies and real-time field operations. They are seeing better retail merchandising, greater product availability and higher product sales.
SPAR Group is a retail merchandising company that serves Kmart, Wal-Mart, Target and Sears, among others. The company also works with leading grocery, drug, and convenience store and restaurant chains.