December 6, 2006, 12:00 AM

Blair Corp. dials up RFID to help consolidate operations

Blair Corp.’s order processing improvements are enabling the multi-channel direct marketer of women’s and men’s apparel and home products to close its freestanding returns center.

Technology and improved productivity are behind multi-channel apparel and home goods retailer Blair Corp.’s plan to fold its offsite returns center into a distribution complex in Irvine, Pa.

Transfer of the returns operations in Erie, Pa., will follow implementation of an electronic warehouse management system that uses radio frequency technology to track and sort inventory. The system vendor is Manhattan Associates Inc., Atlanta, and roll-out is expected to be complete early in 2007, Blair executives say.

Operating enhancements at Blair Corp.’s distribution complex made the transfer possible and will enable the company to process returns and redistribute merchandise to its inventory more efficiently, says Randall Scalise, Blair vice president, fulfillment.

Blair continues to invest in information technology and fulfillment tools, particularly in search engine marketing and web analytics, to increase web traffic and e-commerce sales. For the third quarter, web site traffic increased 19% over third quarter 2005 levels, while web site conversion rates and average order values remained steady, Blair says.

Revenue resulting from investments in keyword searches also rose 62%, and revenue from natural search has nearly doubled following an intensive web site optimization project, according to Blair. The web represented 23% of all sales in Q3 vs. 19% in the same quarter in 2005.

Blair, No. 95 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to Retail Web Sites, reported web sales of $20.2 million, for Q3 ending Sept. 30, vs. $18.2 million in Q3 2005.

The company has invested approximately $23 million to increase warehouse capacity and install new conveyor systems and automated sorting equipment for order fulfillment and shipping, executives say.

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