June 6, 2002, 12:00 AM

Single database payback is not just in money, retailers say

Some retailers are looking at the unmeasurable benefits of moving product information to a single database--such as publishing catalogs to be out ahead of the competition or preventing the competition from getting an advantage with the same technology.

The payback on a single database of product information for web or print use isn’t always--or even mostly--in dollars, retailers say. Certainly, there`s the immediate payback in reduced re-input of data and fewer temps scrambling to meet deadlines.

But more importantly, to some, there are also unmeasurable benefits. "There`s a risk if you don`t have a good system to deliver catalogs," says David Fleming, IT publishing manager of U.K.-based catalog and online merchant Littlewoods. "If you`re two weeks late with your new catalog, all your customers will go to competitors and you could lose millions."

That risk is exacerbated by the fact that other retailers are looking at the same kinds of systems to streamline their own production. "If you`re on a system that`s seven or eight years old, you run the risk that competitors will move to the new technology and that will give them an advantage," he says. "Those are difficult to put a value on, but they`re all risks."

Furthermore, there are the benefits of creating a consistent customer experience on the web and with the catalog. Consistency creates comfort, which causes customers to buy, retailers say. "We want to present data to customers in a consistent format," says Chuck Coleman, director of product support systems at office supplies retailer Corporate Express Inc. Corporate Express is planning to install a content management system from Trigo Technologies Inc. "If customers are used to seeing binders arranged by size with the colors in a certain order, we need to be able to deliver that online." Even more importantly, a single database allows pricing consistency across channels. "We want to be able to present on the web the list price at the time the catalog was printed," Coleman says. "We have an easier time doing that working from one database."

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