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Task Management: Check!

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

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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Staples partners with Blackhawk for gift cards

BY CSA STAFF

PLEASANTON, Calif. Staples has announced an exclusive partnership with the Blackhawk Network, the largest third-party provider of prepaid gift-cards, to carry Blackhawk’s Signature Gift Card Mall, currently found in grocery stores such as Safeway. Blackhawk’s Gift Card Mall features over 300 branded gift cards across categories such as fashion, tickets, electronics, home and sports.

“Consumers love buying and receiving gift cards, and putting the Gift Card Mall in Staples stores will make it easy and convenient for our customers to buy a wide variety of gift cards,” said Mark Mettler, senior vp and gmm at Staples.

“Staples is a valuable retail outlet for us because of its understanding of the B2B aspect of our business,” said Don Kingsborough, ceo of Blackhawk Network. “Working with Staples, we will reach small business owners and give them the ability to purchase prepaid gift cards for their employees in the same place they buy office supplies.”

Staples is the first office supply store to carry Blackhawk gift cards.

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RadioShack appoints new chief marketer

BY CSA STAFF

FORT WORTH, Texas RadioShack announced the appointment of Lee Applbaum to the position of evp and chief marketing officer. Applbaum will be responsible for advertising, brand management, customer relations management and marketing and will report to chairman and ceo Julian Day. He will also serve as a member of the office of the chairman, comprised of Day; Bryan Bevin, evp of store operations; Jim Gooch, evp and cfo and Peter Whitsett, evp of merchandising.

“Lee’s joining us at RadioShack represents another significant step in strengthening our senior management team,” said Day. “Lee’s background and successful track record position him well to add value to our brand.”

Applbaum began his career at Lederle Consumer Health, a division of American Cyanamid Co., shortly after earning his MBA in 1994 from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has also worked at The Coca-Cola Co., Schlotzsky’s, Footstar and The David’s Bridal Group, a division of Federated Department Stores. Immediately prior to joining RadioShack, Applbaum was the chief marketing officer for The Schottenstein Stores Corp.

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