March 11, 2010, 12:00 AM

Jones Apparel ships from stores with a dressed up order management system

Apparel designer and retailer Jones Apparel Group has implemented distributed order management technology to ship web orders from about 637 stores. The new system offers a better way to manage online as well as store inventory.

Apparel designer and multichannel retailer Jones Apparel Group Inc. has implemented VendorNet Inc.’s StoreNet Live distributed order management technology to ship web orders from about 637 of the company’s retail stores, and is still studying the possibility of using the technology for in-store pick-up of orders placed online.

Jones is among the first companies to implement the newly introduced StoreNet Live cross-channel fulfillment software from VendorNet, which was recently added to the company’s VendorNet Commerce Suite. The system offers the opportunity to better manage online as well as store inventory, says Ron Offir, president of electronic commerce at Jones Apparel.

VendorNet describes the StoreNet Live application as functioning as middleware between store systems and direct-to-consumer e-commerce and catalogue channel software.

“Our software would route the order to the best store suited to ship the item to the end customer,” says Sharon Gardner, president of VendorNet. “That’s all based on a lot of business rules and business logic that might be different from retailer to retailer that we can customize.”

Offir says that customers have no knowledge of the behind-the-scenes work the software does to track down “a pair of pants that might be hidden away in a store and ship it from the store.” But many are delighted by the result, he adds.

Jones Apparel`s implementation of the software in mid-2008 after a three-month joint development effort with VendorNet had essentially automated functions that the company’s fleets of Nine West, Easy Spirit, Bandolino, Anne Klein and Jones New York stores had previously done manually, Offir says. “It wasn’t foreign for our fleet to assist customers by calling other stores to find merchandise that they didn’t have in their own store, but ultimately the purchase and the shipment of that product was done in a very manual fashion,” he says. In contrast, he adds, the VendorNet system now lets store personnel assist these shoppers by placing orders on the web; the VendorNet application determines where the product should ship from.

Jones Apparel started the implementation with a pilot group of 10 Nine West stores, which has its own direct-to-consumer warehouse. Within a couple of weeks, the retail chain moved on to corporate-wide training, in which VendorNet employees would train Jones team leaders who then trained other Jones employees.

“It was incredibly smooth,” says Offir. “The store operations team was pleased with the technology and ease of use. We saw very few hiccups during the rollout phase.” The web-based software can route orders to the best inventory sources at stores, warehouses or third-party vendors. Among features are managing items’ safety stock levels, providing discrepancy tracking and shipment rules and issuing pick lists, documentation and shipping labels.

Offir says the Jones merchandise planning team has been able to use the software to better manage inventory and improve buying for the Internet channel by thinking about “using the inventory in the stores as upside potential that would essentially cover them in the event the web takes off faster than had been originally anticipated.”

The pick lists, documentation and shipping label features of the software also make it easier for store employees to process Internet orders that have been channeled to the stores, he says. Without processing these materials through the online VendorNet system, employees would resort to a more time-consuming, manual process that could result in missing forms or inaccurate data.

Offir says the Jones Group is also considering using the VendorNet system to support in-store pickup of online orders, though it will need to work out such challenges as coordinating the schedules of its in-store staff. While store personnel can process online ship-from-store orders during off-peak periods of the day, handling in-store pickup of online orders at busy times could require the retailer’s small in-store staffs to juggle too many tasks at once.

“Most of our stores are very small,” Offir says. “The ability to execute well on the promise of buy it on line and pick it up in store is very challenging for a store that oftentimes during the middle of the week has two employees. Most of the time they have to be concentrating on the customers that walk in.”

“In-store pickup is something that we’re contemplating but it’s not something that we’ve been able to fully figure out at the moment,” he says.

Article written by Philip Burgert, a freelance writer based in Oak Park, IL.

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