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Marbles smartens store and site operations with Salsify

BY Dan Berthiaume

Chicago – When a retailer includes the word “brain” right in its name, a certain level of operational intelligence is expected. For 30-plus-unit specialty educational toy and game retailer Marbles: The Brain Store, smartening up operations has included organizing product data on the Salsify product information management platform to provide merchandise intelligence across the organization.

“In spring 2014, we decided to replatform our e-commerce site and needed to move all the content out of the old site, as well as add new content which old platform didn’t allow,” said Hallie Steube, director of marketing at Marbles. “We selected Salsify and synced it to our new ShopVisible platform in time for the 2014 holiday season.”

Initially, Marbles used the cloud-based Salsify solution to call out specific product fields that made listing products on the new e-commerce site easier. However, following initial rollout, other departments within the retailer began discovering they could also use its product information management capabilities to address various issues.

“The marketing department was able to create targeted online gift catalogs of 10 specific items and send them to different media outlets,” recalled Steube. “Store associates could be directed to follow specific product placement fields to guide store display set-up.”

In addition, during 2015 Marbles began extending its use of Salsify by syncing the solution with an SAP inventory distribution management system to allow a real-time enterprise view of which products are in or out of which stores.

The platform also delivers special store-specific product catalogs that inform associates and managers of what products should be in-stock or phased out, or will be arriving soon. Salsify can also deliver media such as product training videos. Other uses include creation of store-specific product cards with pricing information and other data that can be printed out at the store, as well as tracking store assets such as fixtures and TVs, where mall stores are located within shopping centers, and total store square footage.

“The biggest appeal of Salisfy is that it’s a blank slate,” Steube commented on the solution’s versatility. “It replaces spreadsheets and online documents. Today, it’s how we onboard products for the site and stores.”

When a new item is created in the SAP inventory distribution system, a workflow alert is created to fill out information such as price, department, description, digital assets, etc. in Salsify. When Marbles first used Salsify to populate product information on its new e-commerce site, the retailer was able to collect two-thirds of the data it needed from suppliers within 48 hours and saved weeks of time gathering and inputting information.

More recent developments with Salsify include a mobile app that helps simplify the task of attending global trade shows and collecting information on potential new products for Marbles’ chief merchant.

“Our chief merchant formerly used spreadsheets,” said Steube. “Now with the app, he takes a picture and creates an item with basic product information. He can also record verbal commitments from vendors. Later on, he completes the entries to present proposed new merchandise to the product management group.”

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Bankrupt A&P receives financing, bids; will close 25 stores

BY Dan Berthiaume

Montvale, N.J. – So far, chapter 11 bankruptcy appears to be going as planned for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P). A&P has received approval for financing from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York, bids for some stores, and will close 25 stores in the near term due to “lack of interest” and ongoing losses.

As part of its approval of “first day motions” from A&P, the court has granted A&P immediate access to $50 million of $100 million debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing provided by Fortress Investment Group. This DIP facility will enable A&P to continue operating its stores and pay its suppliers, vendors, employees and others.

As previously announced, A&P will sell approximately 120 stores, and it will continue strategic sales through the chapter 11 process. All asset and store sales will be conducted through a court-supervised sale process. The sale process could include a possible credit bid from A&P’s current investors.

So far, the sale process has included a previously agreement to sell 25 stores in the greater New York area for $146 million to Stop & Shop. In addition, Acme Markets has entered into an agreement to acquire 76 A&P stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania under the A&P, Superfresh and Pathmark banners for an undisclosed sum.

A&P has asked the court for an order requiring other bidders to submit their bids by Sept. 11, 2015, with an expectation that court approval for the sale of the stores would be received by Oct. 15, 2015. Kroger Co. is also reportedly interested in some of A&P's store locations under the Pathmark banner.

In other bankruptcy-related activity, A&P has named chief administrative officer Christopher McGarry as chief restructuring officer.

Aside from the 25 stores expected to close, A&P will continue to conduct business at its stores during the court-supervised sale process. These stores are fully stocked with a complete range of products, and all existing customer promotional and loyalty programs will stay in place.

“We are pleased that the court has granted these motions promptly, which allows us to continue operating in ordinary course during this process – continuing to pay employees, work with suppliers and serve customers,” said Paul Hertz, president and CEO of A&P. “We are confident that pursuing a sale process implemented through chapter 11 will enable us to preserve as many jobs as possible and ensure that we achieve the best possible outcome for all stakeholders.”

A&P’s legal representative in its chapter 11 cases is Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and its financial advisors are Evercore, FTI Consulting and Hilco Global.

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How retailers can avoid fake omnichannel

BY CSA STAFF

Retailers today are in a constant search for the industry’s Holy Grail – delivering an omnichannel brand experience across all touchpoints.Unfortunately, this quest to deliver on the promise of the omnichannel experience has given rise to a troublesome and pervasive problem known as fake omnichannel or “’fomni.”

Amid their search, retailers confront a wide array of commerce-related software solutions masquerading as omnichannel and promising to provide the type of seamless experiences shoppers now expect.

Fomni tends to be characterized by a collection disparate systems stitched together that can never truly communicate with each other in real time or with the high level of accuracy needed to execute omnichannel. Fomni systems can’t produce a single system of record for customer, inventory or order information, breaking the customer experience and putting retailers at a competitive disadvantage.
Determining whether a retailer’s solution is true omnichannel or merely fomni is simple, just look for these warning signs:

• If your IT team needs to work closely with marketing to implement new ways to engage with shoppers, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If shoppers are frustrated with the lack of visibility into inventory on your ecommerce site or when they are in-store, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If your prices are inconsistent across channels, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If you don’t have visibility into every customer interaction, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If you’re sending out marketing emails advertising products that aren’t in stock at the nearest store, then you’ve probably got fomni.
• If your sales are declining and you are ceding market share to more digitally adept competitors, then you’ve definitely got fomni.

I’ve experienced firsthand the problems fomni can create. Recently, my wife and I found a light fixture we wanted on the website of a major indoor lighting chain. However, ordering it online meant it would take too long to arrive, so we went to a local store and bought it there instead. Later, we bought a related accessory online to match it. A few days after the online purchase was delivered, we received an email promotion, offering 50% off the light fixture we had already purchased for full price.

This example is a major fomni fail because their ecommerce system had no visibility into in-store purchases. What’s worse, when I called to explain the problem, the call center I reached only handled online orders and had no visibility into any in-store transactions. The company wound up with a frustrated customer and, after I returned the light fixture and then bought it again at half off, they wound up with 50% less revenue and incurred increased operational costs. That’s the dark side of fomni, but it doesn’t have to that way.

Retailers will never deliver a true omnichannel experience if they just get a new POS or e-commerce system. Rather, the right foundational system needs to be put in place to run the business. Parents know all too well how difficult it can be to get their children to eat their vegetables, but they also know how important the nutrients vegetables provide are to establishing a foundation for long-term, sustainable health. To build a true omnichannel brand experience, retailers need to eat their vegetables and focus first on making sure the business has a foundation in place which seamlessly unifies customer, inventory, financial and order data with customer-facing systems.

Sadly, most retail businesses today skip their vegetables and, as a result, have point solutions with data spread across CRM, e-commerce, store operations, marketing and financial systems. In fact, many retailers are working on older foundational ERP systems based on technology built before the Internet even existed. They may have gone through several upgrades and bolted on content management and ecommerce systems, but the fundamental basis of their core system is still built to meet the needs of individual departments and not customers. Ultimately, these systems are loosely integrated at best. They’ll never reach omnichannel nirvana. In fact, it’s probably perpetuating the problem rather than solving it.

Indeed, fomni can result in significant expenditures in IT time and resources as retailers struggle to manage multiple licenses and integrations and grapple with the ripple effect a change to one application can wreak across the environment. Today’s customers have little sympathy for the limitations of retailers’ existing systems and the fomni experience they enable. Consumers expect the company they’re doing business with to have real time access to the same customer, inventory and order data no matter the channel they’re interacting with.
Don't be fooled, or worse yet, victimized by fomni solutions. True omnichannel allows retailers to serve the needs of customers across every touchpoint. If current systems can’t do that, then you’ve probably got fomni and its time to eat those vegetables.

Andy Lloyd is general manager of commerce products at Netsuite, the leading provider of cloud-based financials/ERP and omnichannel software suites. In his role at NetSuite, Lloyd leads the company’s commerce product and new business development.

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