Task Management: Check!

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As retailers reallocate their IT budgets, many are evaluating task-management systems. Simply put, task management is an application that electronically manages the tasks that need to be executed throughout a specific store-level operation. These could be stocking shelves, updating displays and promotions, or executing planograms.

While it sounds rudimentary, too many chains fail to execute their daily plans. For example, slightly more than half (59%) of retailers’ plans are executed in a timely manner, Rob Garf, VP and general manager, retail strategies, AMR Research, Boston, said during the recent Technology and Operations Store Summit (TOPSS) sponsored by Chain Store Age and Retail Technology Quarterly.

“Companies are spending $12 billion on planning systems, but less than $100 million on execution solutions,” he said during the panel discussion, “Task Management.”

Retail Winners Payless ShoeSource, Topeka, Kan., is one company that understands the value of task management, especially as it manages approximately 5,000 stores. But in the past, Payless often fell short.

“Getting ahold of thousands of stores via phone is difficult and takes time,” explained panelist Tony Briggs, the chain’s VP, IT. “E-mails are better, but the high turnover in retail presents challenges in setting up addresses. And we haven’t made the move to instant messaging yet.”

Instead, the company began testing a task-management solution directly through the company’s intranet.  

At presstime, the solution was being tested in 300 stores. The application helps associates to manage resets.

“We are saving associates time in our stores and they are able to reallocate that time into customer service,” Ron Baker, director of retail systems, Payless, said at the meeting.

“We started small so we could learn from it and understand the value. It clearly helps our business,” he said.

Impressed with these early improvements, Payless plans to expand the solution to more stores this fall. 

Memphis, Tenn.-based AutoZone is also an advocate of task management. AutoZone’s store-level associates are responsible for a variety of operations, from resetting stores and assortments, to updating pricing, signs and fixtures.

“If we wanted some tasks done simultaneously, however, it was inevitable that some operations didn’t happen,” Ken Brame, the chain’s former CIO, said during the session.

“It wasn’t that our associates didn’t want to do them,” he recalled. “We didn’t always give them the right processes or guidance to complete these tasks, and that made successful completions too hard for them.”

After pinpointing the obstacles, AutoZone created a store-level plan and delivered it via a task-management solution. 

“The secret was to remove these obstacles and deliver tasks that are priorities,” Brame said. “Now our stores know which operations are most important to do each day.”

Currently, most companies communicate task-management information via PC or POS. Garf predicted that the next generation of delivery could be streamlined and accessed through a handheld unit.

“An employee-facing handheld is fine as long as it is a multifunctional device that can support price look-ups, line busting or customer-service returns,” noted Brame. “We can’t underestimate this technology, However, we also need to leverage and harness what can be done with one piece of equipment.”

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