Channels Pose Challenge for Data Management

By Stan Gibson  |  Print this article Print


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Co-ordinating sales channels remains a big problem for retailers.

In its race with archrival Office Depot Inc., Staples Inc. is tackling a problem that retailers in many markets are facing: coordination of a variety of sales channels.

"The big buzzword today is to have a customer-focused organization because you have all these channels," said Patti Freeman Davis, an analyst at JupiterResearch, in New York. "Retailers realize that consumers interface with those channels as they want to, not as the channel wants them to."

Davis said Office Depot, in Delray Beach, Fla., is seeking to use its Web site not only to capture sales but also to drive customers to its stores. "These companies are trying to get the back end coordinated so they can service these customers," she said.

But assuring that data remains consistent across multiple channels is no easy task, said Andrew White, an analyst with Gartner Inc., in Atlanta. "Before you can automate [supply chain] processes, you have to make sure your data is the same as the suppliers'. Too many times, it is a problem. All the retailers on the planet are focused on this," White said.

The efforts of Staples, in Framingham, Mass., to create a centralized product information repository and to make consistent product data accessible to key supply chain applications addresses the issue head-on, he said. "That architecture is a good thing to be doing at this point. A lot of retailers in other markets want to get to that point," White said.

Click here to read eWEEK's interview with Staples CIO Scott Floeck.

Some retailers, such as Office Depot, are relying on a suite of retail applications from Retek Inc., of Minneapolis.

"Retek is probably the largest high-end retail management solution stack. It does everything, like merchandising and procurement, but doesn't synchronize effectively across the enterprise. If you use only Retek, great, but if you use another app for catalog or Web site, you have several silos of data," said White. "There are very few packages that are good for multichannel retailers."

Davis said customers are accustomed to using Web browsers for a variety of tasks, and as a result, kiosk usage in stores is on the upswing, even as kiosk technology improves. "Kiosks are getting better and are less costly. And consumers are more used to interfacing with that technology. The use of an electronic interface to research or shop is now customary to how people operate," Davis said.

Because customers are increasingly comfortable using electronic interfaces, online sales will grow at a torrid 38 percent compound annual growth rate through 2008, according to JupiterResearch.

Maintaining consistent data will be an even greater challenge as Staples continues to expand globally. "You have the issues of data consistency and naming conventions and different privacy laws around the world," Evans said.

In the end, Evans said, success will come down to being customer-centric across multiple sales channels.

Check out eWEEK.com's Retail Center at http://retail.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis of technology's impact on retail.

Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on Zcast.tv. He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.

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