PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nature's Fresh Northwest here is equipping its stores with technology that will help launch new front-end initiatives and greatly enhance data analysis capability.
The retailer installed new personal computer-based terminals and scanners in one store late last year and plans to equip all six of its stores over the next two years.
The technology was chosen primarily because its open systems architecture will provide the foundation for future initiatives, said Robert Lockwood, information systems director.
Among the projects already under way are a card-based electronic frequent-shopper program and multimedia informational presentations displayed on monitors facing customers, he said.
The introduction of scanners and availability of scan data will be another crucial step forward. By linking scan data to an in-house data base of 5,000 products, store officials will gain insight into how merchandise performs.
"We'll now get the front-end information and with relative ease link it to our [data base]," Lockwood said.
Building and maintaining this data base is a challenge for the retailer, which specializes in health-oriented products and deals with many small manufacturers that lack technology for record-keeping or communications.
Scanning data also is crucial for the new frequent shopper program, Lockwood said, because Nature's Fresh plans to analyze individual shopping patterns to evaluate category and brand performance.
"We're going to look for purchase patterns and complementary [product] areas," he said. "There's definitely target-marketing planned."
"It gives us a good demographic tool to enhance site selection," Lockwood said. "We've done extensive demographic studies and analysis on our existing stores but we are still limited to census information, like income levels."
The new point-of-sale system is designed by Stores Automated Systems, Bristol, Pa. Nature's Fresh's new customer-oriented display screens will eventually be used for promotions, possibly as part of its frequent shopper program. Currently, the monitors display still images of products and describe how the store arranges merchandise.
"We use our multimedia 'slide show' to explain our [product classification] system to shoppers," Lockwood said. "They see reproductions of shelf tags and when they go out in the store they can understand our system a little better."
The retailer categorizes items in a highly detailed manner, according to product attributes such as "organically grown" or "dairy free." The information is then conveyed through color-coded shelf tags to assist shoppers in selection.
By compiling up to 35 different pieces of information on each product in the data base, and integrating it with newly available scan data, the retailer will develop an extensive picture of product trends and performance, he said.
Nature's Fresh began building its data base two years ago with the goal of maintaining highly specific item data and vendor histories for its products, which are often niche-based organic merchandise in the areas of grocery, perishables, health and beauty care and general merchandise.
"Our need for very sophisticated item-tracking tools was intense," Lockwood said. "We looked into applications on the shelf and they simply did not have the sheer number of descriptive fields we needed to track our products."