LOS ANGELES -- Certified Grocers of California here is pilot testing an interactive computer-based store ordering system that links retailers with the wholesaler's inventory data base.
The system, which enables retailers to access key information such as out-of-stock levels and cube size prior to ordering, is operational in 20 stores now and later this month Certified will determine whether to roll it out systemwide.
"We hope to have a significant number of retailers on-line by the end of this year," Al Plamann, president and chief executive officer, told SN.
Retailers stand to benefit because the data enables them to plan orders in full truckload quantities, when possible, and thus to qualify for lower service fees, he said.
"We can let them take a look at the order [parameters] early on and make the modifications that they need. We can show them what their order looks like from the standpoint of the fees we are charging, the cube and other information to achieve maximum efficiency," he said.
Retailers create orders using handheld scanning devices that communicate via radio frequency with an in-store computer containing the latest inventory data downloaded from Certified.
If an ordered item is out of stock at the warehouse or not authorized by the store, a detailed status message will be displayed on the device, according to Ross Mancuso, executive vice president and general manager of Grocers Equipment, a wholly owned subsidiary of Certified that
provides retail services.
"Before they transmit an order, they can determine whether or not they have a full truck or if there are items that could be out of stock," he added. "They know all that ahead of time. Under the old system, they didn't know that until they received their load and invoice."
Jensen's Finest Foods, Blue Jay, Calif., which has been using the interactive ordering system in two stores, reduced ordering time and improved accuracy, said Chris Longo, store manager.
"The biggest benefit is the amount of time you saved -- it's 50% faster -- and the knowledge that you have upon ordering makes it possible to write a more accurate order," he said. "In mid-August, we are going to look more closely at the cube so we can fill a truck and not be charged the extra fees."
Longo downloads data from Certified weekly and orders products daily. All test stores are using scanning devices from Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y.
Longo noted that the ability to save order information on a computer will come in handy for reference at a later date. For example, Jensen's will be able to access last weekend's order data when planning for Memorial Day shipments next year.
Mancuso said the interactive system is designed to help the retailer order more cost-effectively, which allows Certified, in turn, to reap efficiencies.
Certified's Plamann said the development of the program grew out of the recognition that retailers are investing in more computer technology today.
"We thought, if we could utilize their capabilities in store as if we were all part of the same company, a 'virtual chain,' then we could provide them enough information to make the modifications that they need. It helps them and it helps us."