January 14, 2003, 12:00 AM

Best Buy uses the web to redirect in-store shoppers seeking sold-out items

A pilot of its new Retek web-based inventory management system showed Best Buy how it could redirect store customers to locations that still have the hottest-selling products. The system also helps to direct sales to BestBuy.com.

After testing a customer service-oriented, web-based in-store inventory management system for over a year, Best Buy Co. Inc. is rolling it out to all of its more than 540 retail locations this year. "If you walk into one of our stores and the product you want is not on our shelves, we can provide you with near real-time visibility in the inventory of that store and surrounding stores," Joel Lauterbach, director of retailing process development, tells InternetRetailer.com.

The Retek Store Inventory Management system from Retek Inc. lets store clerks access inventory levels that get updated every 30 minutes for their own store and several other Best Buy stores in their region or metropolitan area, Lauterbach says. This enables them to get a far more accurate reading on inventory, which can change significantly day to day, he adds.

Under the conventional method of checking inventory, store clerks would access information based on batched files uploaded each night. "Under the older system, much of the inventory data would be as of the close of business the previous day," he adds. "Store personnel would be far less confident about the data because of the high amount of daily sales volume."

With the Retek system, which has been piloted in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, Best Buy store clerks can check inventory on any of several in-store web-access terminals, including some mounted on kiosks that customers can also use for browsing on BestBuy.com. The clerks will typically advise customers on which Best Buy stores currently have the product they want, but also give customers the option of ordering the product immediately on the web. "We’re focusing on click-and-mortar sales to satisfy customer demand," Lauterbach says.

While the pilot program was running during the recent holiday shopping season, it was particularly helpful in directing customers to where they could buy hot-selling products, such as the Band of Brothers CD set, a spokeswoman says.

Although the Retek inventory management system is currently designed only to check in-store inventories, Best Buy is also working on expanding it so that employees will have a single point of access for checking corporate sales and inventory levels. This which would allow them to check for products that are available through BestBuy.com as well as in stores.

It took Best Buy more than 18 months to launch the Retek system on its back-end corporate network, but rolling out it to all of the company’s stores will be relatively easy, Lauterbach says. Each store will have immediate access following a one-day training period for in-store personnel, he adds.

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