Wholesalers and independents have unique concerns about Efficient Consumer Response, and a joint-industry task force hopes to address some of those issues.
The ECR initiative, as envisioned, would eliminate the practices of forward buying and diverting, both of which represent important sources of income for wholesalers, and in turn help wholesalers subsidize services to retailers.
In addition, the cost of some of the technological linkups necessary to proceed with electronic data interchange and other ECR components may be prohibitive for some independents.
John Dickson, chairman and chief executive officer of Roundy's, Pewaukee, Wis., and Charles Butson, president of Butson's Supermarkets, Woodsville, N.H., are co-chairs of the wholesaler-independent task force.
Dickson said the wide variety of point-of-sale scan systems in independent stores complicates the implementation of EDI for this segment of the industry in particular.
"We've got to interface with a lot of various front-end systems, but then the independent retailer may go and change those systems" after the interface is in place, he said.
One step being taken to address that problem is the use of standard interface language, or SIL, a nonproprietary language now being developed that could especially help in allowing a wider and easier use of EDI applications at the independent level.
SIL will facilitate data interchange between different systems, software and languages. SIL is a complement to the existing uniform communication standard, but not a replacement for it, as some have mistakenly termed it.
Roundy's and one of its independent retailers are conducting an EDI test in which retailer front-end data is transmitted to Roundy's for automatic reordering based on movement. Other wholesaler and retailer pilots are planned for other elements of EDI and ECR.
Dickson said independents have traditionally found innovative ways to compete, so are often open-minded about change. And in the long run, ECR provides wholesalers with an additional opportunity to help their retail customers, he added.