December 12, 2003, 12:00 AM

With digital deliveries, CompUSA stores expand into new niches

With a new web-based system of sourcing software products for customers, CompUSA wants to offer the largest range of retail software--without stocking extra inventory. The technology may also be used for other digital products.


With a new web-based, just-in-time system of sourcing software products for individual customers, CompUSA’s strategy is to offer the largest available range of retail software – without stocking extra inventory. “This allows us to get into software product categories that wouldn’t be feasible for us otherwise,” says senior buyer Dewey Thoes.

Using the web-based SoftwareToGo system from ProtoCall Technologies Inc., CompUSA has already nearly doubled its number of available in-store software titles to about 1,200 SKUs, Thoes says. But the retailer expects to continue growing that number as it uses the ProtoCall system to offer software for several niche markets, including professional architecture and accounting software.

The slow turnover and high price of many niche software products, which can cost $1,000 or more, make it too costly to build in-store inventory with them, Thoes says. But by making a large enough number of niche products available on a just-in-time basis, he adds, CompUSA figures it can turn a profit on them while building a reputation as a store where customers can find virtually any software product.

To use the SoftwareToGo system, customers search for software titles on an in-store kiosk, then print out an order form and hand it to a cashier. The clerk then sends the customer’s request over the web to ProtoCall, which sends back a digital de-encryption key to let the retailer unlock encrypted software content stored on an in-store computer, burn the content onto a CD, package it and hand it to the customer. The entire order-to-burn process takes about 5 minutes, Thoes says. ProtoCall also forwards the order information to the software publisher, freeing the publisher from having to deal with hundreds of retailers.

The system, which debuted in more than 20 CompUSA stores this month and will be rolled out to all 227 stores early next year, is already proving popular among store customers, Thoes says. “Sales through SoftwareToGo have been going up every day,” he says.

Bruce Newman, president and CEO of ProtoCall, says his company is looking into applying the SoftwareToGo technology for other types of digital products, including digital games, books and movies. He says he figures that retailers, software publishers and customers all benefit from the just-in-time distribution system. “This will enable digital publishers to get more products into stores, and retailers will never have to worry about being out of stock,” he says.


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