Magazine Article | September 17, 2008

Increase Efficiency Through Communication Management

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

A Web-based communication system saves this retailer one business day a week in productivity.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, October 2008

As many retailers know, it's often challenging to achieve operational efficiencies even with a set of best practices in place. Vital information can be lost or overlooked if frequent messages from headquarters to stores are not monitored or sent precisely. In addition, when headquarters has no way to verify message receipt or determine if tasks are completed, time and money can be wasted. Lewis Feinstein, VP of operations at The Shoe Company, recently dealt with this very issue.

The Shoe Company is headquartered in Toronto, has 65 locations throughout Canada, and employs more than 1,000 people. For years, Feinstein communicated with store-level employees via an internal e-mail service on a virtual private network (VPN). The e-mails contained actionable memos instructing employees to complete certain tasks. As many as 15 e-mails were sent to the stores daily, including visual presentation directions, price changes, product recalls, staff information, and health and safety checks. "The problem was that some stores would read these e-mails but not complete the tasks," explains Feinstein. "Some stores completely ignored the e-mails, while some stores read the e-mails, completed the tasks, but did so incorrectly." To ensure compliance, district managers and supervisors physically had to go to the stores to verify that tasks were executed properly. Also, the district managers were unable to communicate with stores unless they were physically in headquarters.

Ensure Message Delivery With Web-Based Communication
Opterus, a software company that provides a store information and execution management tool, approached the retailer two years ago with its Store Ops-Center solution. The vendor knew The Shoe Company was progressive in its use of technology and thought the retailer could benefit from a Web-based solution. Store Ops-Center is an online accessible hub for all store communications and information distribution. The solution contains ways for head-office, regional, and store personnel to create their own content and receive feedback from the field. It allows users to ensure message delivery, monitor task execution and verify compliance, and approve store-level decisions. "We create the messages, approve them, and send them to the stores," says Feinstein. The message center holds messages and tasks that headquarters assigns to the stores. Feinstein can structure the tasks to verify various stages of completion. For example, when a product recall task is assigned, the message center will ask a series of questions (e.g. Did you find this item in your store? Have you packed the product? Have you shipped the product?). The vendor's solution provides checkboxes or a sliding scale to determine the progress of that task. District managers use this information to determine each store's progress.

Gain Instant Access Via Simple Installation
Because the solution is Web-based, the retailer did not need additional hardware to run the solution. "We simply manage the log on and password information," says Feinstein. "Once we're logged on, everything we need is right there." The retailer's IT team had to only make a small change to the store network setup in order to access  the vendor's solution. To do so, the IT team logged on to each store remotely via VNC (virtual network computing). They logged on to all 65 stores and spent five minutes per store performing the setup.

The retailer has repeated quantifiable benefits since implementing the vendor's solution. "It's still early, but there's no question it has made the operations team 20% more efficient by simply not having to manually print and reenter data. It has saved our operations analyst one full business day in a given work week," explains Feinstein.

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