December 31, 2002, 12:00 AM

At Sears, it’s out with paper and in with intranet-based store planners

Sears is dropping its paper-based store planners for merchandising and product planning in favor of an intranet-based system that allows managers to obtain store plans much more quickly than with paper and allows HQ executives to make sure store personnel are doing their jobs.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. is rolling out an intranet-based system for distributing store merchandising and product planning policies to all 870 Sears stores this year. The system will enable Sears to throw out its paper-based store planners while making it easier to distribute policies from headquarters and monitor compliance by employees, says Michael Buxton, Sears vice president of operations for full-line stores.

Buxton says the intranet-based software from StorePerform Technologies Inc. would reduce operating costs and enhance revenues by providing Sears executives with “the ability to monitor store-level task completion, ensure compliance on a variety of initiatives, and take timely action to address execution problems.”

Among other things, the pilot program proved that the system would be quickly and widely adopted by store personnel, including department managers and others who need to check daily policies on merchandising and other operations. “It was great to see how end-users at the store level have adopted it,” says Srikant Vasan, CEO of StorePeform.

Like most retailers, under its traditional system, Sears sends out paper books of plans every month to store managers. The monthly Action Planner includes instructions from headquarters on such matters as which products to display, at what price and how to market them. “Now, instead of looking for the big book, managers can go to the intranet for the equivalent of an e-mail inbox and click on their list of tasks,” a Sears spokesman says.

And once tasks are completed, such as replacing displays of lawnmowers with snow blowers, the employee assigned with the task clicks a box on the computer screen to indicate the job is done. The intranet then provides a real-time update of a task-management record that can be monitored by district managers and store managers, saving these managers the trouble of having to call or visit each store or store department to confirm that the tasks were finished.

Sears tested the StorePerform intranet system as part of a broader Workbench project for its full-line stores. In other aspects of the project, which will be developed in-house by Sears’s information technology department, the company plans to provide enhanced performance reporting that, for example, will enable managers to see on an intranet screen how particular merchandising and marketing policies, and even the techniques of individual sales people, are affecting the sales of particular products.

Vasan says his Denver-based StorePerform is also developing higher-end software programs that will analyze information on the impact of store policies and employee job performance on sales. He says this will enable retailers to allocate resources to their best advantage, such as by implementing certain merchandising plans only in certain stores or by re-assigning employees to jobs for which they’ve been found to be most productive.

Vasan says Sears will soon be joined by other retailers implementing intranet-based store management systems, and adds that they eventually will become common among retailers with 40 or more stores. “Once you get beyond that number of stores, it’s hard for headquarters to get visibility into what’s going on in the store,” he says.

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