Magazine Article | October 20, 2008

Streamline Your Inventory Tracking Procedures

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

By implementing handheld scanners, this retailer decreased its inventory tracking time 50%.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, November 2008

When done manually, keeping track of inventory can be a painstaking task. Dave Schoengart, VP of store operations at Shoe Sensation, knows this issue firsthand. Shoe Sensation is an independently owned regional shoe and apparel chain. Headquartered in Jeffersonville, IN, the retailer has 75 locations and 650 employees. In order to monitor merchandise status and pricing, store-level managers received an 8-to-12-page spreadsheet from headquarters every other week.

These reports included dates, names, and prices for upcoming promotions. "Once managers received the spreadsheet, they validated merchandise pricing in one of two ways," explains Schoengart. "They checked products by working the list or by working the floor." If managers chose to work the list, they used the spreadsheet to guide the entire process. Starting with the first product on the spreadsheet, the manager physically walked around the store to find that product on the floor. Once the item was found, the manager validated its pricing by comparing the price on the spreadsheet to the price on the price tag. This process continued through the rest of the spreadsheet — a document that often included more than 6,000 SKUs. It took 12 hours to complete the task, and it was riddled with inaccuracies (e.g. products were skipped and prices were incorrectly documented). 

Choose A Scanner That Meets Your Needs
Shoe Sensation performed this inefficient process for 10 years. Though Schoengart knew the answer lay in implementing a handheld scanner solution, the retailer first had to overhaul its antiquated POS system. The old POS system could not integrate with handheld scanners. In 2006, the retailer replaced its DOS-based POS system with a SQL-based program that allowed for open architecture on the back end, including integrating with handheld devices. Once the new POS system was installed, Schoengart began researching handheld scanners to eliminate the inefficient manual process. "We saw handheld scanners in use in other retail establishments," says Schoengart. "These stores operated so efficiently  that we knew this kind of solution would work for us."

ScanAgain, a VAR, suggested CipherLab's 802.11 handheld scanners. To be safe, the retailer worked with four vendors and evaluated their units, looking at cost and features such as durability (e.g. whether  it can withstand being dropped 3 to 4 feet), and whether it worked off an existing LAN  connection. The retailer put each device through extensive testing (i.e. dropping it from 4 feet and running over it with a cart) and purchased one scanner per store, as well as one scanner per field supervisor, area director, and area supervisor.

Intuitive Device Minimizes Training Time
Together with CipherLab representatives, Shoe Sensation's IT department implemented the scanners in each store. Prior to the implementation, the retailer provided the vendor with the specs for a software program that brings up the name, description, current cost, and in-stock position of the products once the UPC is scanned. The software program allows a manager to scan the UPC code, which is then transmitted through the store's wireless network to wireless router back to the corporate servers. The software then matches the UPC to current pricing information and product descriptions. Finally, this data is transmitted back to the handheld scanner. This process takes less than 1 second per scan.

Shoe Sensation is developing a program that will allow employees to scan advanced shipment notifications located on the outside of a shipment box or carton. The scanner will confirm delivery of that product and print labels on a separate printer automatically before employees open the box — a process that will save time and eliminate errors. Shoe Sensation's inventory tracking procedures have been reduced 50% — from 12 hours to 6 hours —  with this new handheld solution. "We expect full payback within two years," says Schoengart. 

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