STORES Magazine - September 2017 - 51
the pilot because the technology showed
the possibility to help us identify when we
were in an out-of-stock condition," says
Brian Brand, Giant Eagle's senior manager
of retail supply chain.
"And not only identify it, but connect it
to actions within the store that would allow
our team members to address the problem."
This is the crux of the issue - and
perhaps the justification for referring to
today's advances in data technology as a
new industrial revolution. There's never
been a shortage of data in retail; from
merchandise orders, bills of lading and
warehouse inventory to store inventory,
sales records and returns, the industry
generates a vast trove of information about
its day-to-day activities.
What's missing is useful information
before it's too late. Knowing a popular
item ran out yesterday, or last week, is
not particularly helpful. Even knowing it
might run out today - if that knowledge
exists only as a blip on a dashboard
somewhere at headquarters - is not all
Knowing an out-of-stock is imminent
and getting somebody to the shelf in time
to prevent it, however, is gold.
"Since we started the pilot," Brand
says, "they've been doing a lot of work
on the dashboarding aspects of it. And
we're in partnership with them to look for
the best ways to leverage this technology
to provide guidance to store personnel.
Because at the end of the day, if the shelf's
empty, somebody's got to go to the back
room and get the product and put it on
the shelf. I can't do that from 300 miles
away in Pittsburgh."
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Getting to the end of this series
of handoffs - from sensing device
to database to business intelligence
application to management to somebody
who can actually do something - is of
keen interest to Microsoft, another player
in the team of partners enabling the use
Powershelf makes the hardware: shelf
sensors, digital signage for price changes,
etc., and provides analytics for predicting
everything from out-of-stocks to price
gap analysis to promotional return on
investment software. Microsoft provides
a platform for all this stuff to run on, and
also links it to other business applications.
"Our customers have not traditionally
spent money on empowering
employees," says Karen Garrette,
Microsoft's global retail industry
director. "The amount of money they've
spent on systems for employees, and
giving employees what they need in the
store, has been very, very small. But
they're now realizing that investing in
their operational models, investing in
their employees, can reap dividends."
Bread and barbecue sauce brand
King's Hawaiian, another Powershelf
client, is using the technology to
facilitate better deployment of its field
staff. "We know consumer goods
companies send merchandisers into
the store on a schedule," Garrette
says. "If you're in Minnesota and it's
Tuesday, you get a visit, whether you
need product or not. But knowing
electronically what the stocking
situation is has enabled them to
optimize where they send their field
staff. They're not wasting time going
to places they don't need to go to."
With expansion into select Pittsburgharea stores being considered in the
coming months, Giant Eagle is still in
the test and pilot phase with Powershelf.
Brand says it's too early to be able to
quantify the technology's benefits.
"We're not there at a business case,"
he says, "but from a business value
point of view, you can measure the
[number] of minutes that something's
been out of stock, and from there you
could look at your demand and see
what that costs your business."
As to how broadly Giant Eagle
may one day deploy the Powershelf
technology, Brand says the company
needs to learn more about the cost/
benefit tradeoffs before it can consider
a possible expansion.
"We're still thinking about how to
integrate it with our existing systems in
ways that would make the information
more valuable and more actionable,
but action such as the Microsoft
partnership are encouraging."
Peter Johnston is a freelance writer and editor
based in the New York City area.
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