JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Winn-Dixie Stores here has begun to roll out satellite communications technology to its 1,141 stores. When completed it would be the largest network of very small aperture terminals in the supermarket industry.
The chain installed a master earth station, or hub, at its headquarters here late last month that will bounce signals off a satellite and serve as the central communications link with Winn-Dixie stores. VSATs are now being brought into stores and the chain plans to have all locations on line with electronic funds transfer capability by spring 1995, according to James Kufeldt, president.
The satellite communications linkup is part of a larger automation project, which includes upgrading in-store controllers to IBM 4690s that can handle greater data volume and speed.
"We feel the combination of this technology, our aggressive new and remodeled store program and our ongoing commitment to providing the lowest possible prices provides our customers with the best overall shopping experience in the market," Kufeldt said.
Winn-Dixie embarked on the satellite program to take advantage of "real time" electronic funds transfer capabilities not possible with land-based communications systems -- as well as to enjoy substantial savings.
Some industry sources estimate a chain can save $200 per month per store in electronic transaction charges after switching from conventional dial-up systems to VSAT networks. Companies seeing the biggest savings are those that are geographically dispersed; Winn-Dixie operates
Mickey Clerc, vice president of public relations at Winn-Dixie, said the company's first application will be in electronic banking as the chain builds its own network of automated teller machines.
"We had ATMs in a limited number of stores, but it was spotty. [The satellite network] will allow us to have it in a substantial number of stores," Clerc said. The chain plans to have 900 stores on-line with satellite-linked ATMs by the end of the first quarter of 1995.
Clerc noted that going forward, Winn-Dixie will be able to take advantage of other forms of satellite-driven data transmissions. "We will also have the ability to use the system for check approval, electronic benefits transfer, debit cards and on-line pharmacy services," he told SN.
Winn-Dixie's network provider is GTE Spacenet, McLean, Va. Electronic banking transactions will be processed by Deluxe Data, Milwaukee.
To date, the largest U.S. grocery retailer satellite network of VSATs belongs to Kroger, Cincinnati, which was to have completed its rollout to 1,100 stores this summer.
In another, unrelated technology development, Winn-Dixie is testing home shopping services available through personal computers. The chain already offered home shopping and delivery services via fax and telephone, but was to begin offering home shopping services through America Online this week, Clerc said.
Home shopping through the on-line computer service will likely be made available in major cities of all Winn-Dixie's divisions, except for Montgomery, Ala., and Fort Worth, Texas. This fall, Winn-Dixie will participate in testing of another form of home shopping -- through interactive cable television -- in 4,000 households in Orlando, Fla.