Magazine Article | January 1, 2003

Cookie Cutter Technology Restricts Merchandising

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Most retailers are at least broadly aware that information technology is available. Many are confused by the myriad options and fearful today's choices will pigeonhole them.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, January 2003

Too often, retailers with very keen instincts regarding merchandising and customer service grow intimidated when entering the complex arena of technology. How does a savvy retailer sift through the sand of retail technology to glean the right system to achieve its goals?

While there is no magic to selecting the right retail system, here are three keys that will make your technology work for you while freeing you from frustration down the road.

1. Understand That People Make Technology Successful
When evaluating your opportunity for improvement through retail systems, understand that your people and your system vendor's people will make it work. Building and implementing the most technologically advanced system in the world will not improve your bottom line if your system vendor's people cannot communicate change consistently with your people.

Here's where your system vendor's experience, focus, and attitudes toward people come in to play. It is important that your system supplier's technical savvy is up to snuff. It's at least as important that the technology you choose is keenly oriented toward the people side of the equation. How does your system vendor support the product after your payment check for the system has been deposited? How well do the vendor's current customers view the benefits of the system and the post-sale service and support? Have the vendor's past implementations gone smoothly? How were problems resolved?

Your retail system should be built by people who understand retail! Ultimately, retail comes down to selling more product for less cost. How does this new 'thing-a-ma-jig' technology do that for our merchandising? Does the system vendor talk my language? Beware of the tech-language lingo lever. While larger retailers generally have the IT staff to avoid this problem, too many technology companies get caught up in their zeal to extol the benefits of their particular genus using the language of the day. There is a clear benefit to increasing your understanding of basic technology, but you need to work with a system vendor that understands retailing.

2. Understand The Technology Basics Of The System And The Experience And Stability Of The Supplier
Too many retailers lament the choice of a system that promised so much, but ran out of gas before it got there.

They were going to upgrade the system from the DOS base, but they were bought up by another company and now I have to upgrade to the corporate system or lose my support ..."

"I thought the system was running pretty well until I did my end of the year physical inventory. I was surprised that my inventory count was way off because of the way the system calculated markdowns!"

"Really, the system works pretty well. I mean I'd be satisfied with it but I can't seem to replace the hardware. And new hardware won't work with it."

3. Select A System That Provides The Functionality You Need Now And The Flexibility You Need For Tomorrow
Easy to say, but how do you do this? Start with the two steps listed above. Then make sure your system provides importing and exporting capabilities for third party solutions like financial software, payroll systems, and customer marketing solutions via extensible markup language (XML) or minimally ASCII. Your system should provide a seamless port to your inventory planning vendor with sales markdowns, receiving, on-orders, and transfers, with daily real-time comparisons to your plan.

By working through these three steps for your technology search, you can improve your project's probability of success.