“Road warriors” for the retail trade are prime candidates for mobile technology, and greater access to real-time information is making them the eyes and ears of their suppliers.
Two sales operations, Masterpet and Kapiti Cheeses, featured in recent coverage about the pragmatic approach now developing to “mobile commerce” (see Pet PDA project pays off and Cheesemaker changes), testing the capabilities of the Telecom CDMA and TelstraClear GPRS networks, as well as Telecom’s older CDPD service, which was found rather wanting.
Rothford International, a “food broker” which acts as the link between suppliers and retailers including the giant Progressive Enterprises chain, will put in a mobile system with handhelds for its sales staff next year, as part of a general IT refresh.
The company is as yet undecided about the transmission channel it will use, but has chosen the Exonet sales software platform and the Parochus mobile interface, precisely to give it the flexibility to use either CDMA or GPRS, says logistics administration manager Dan Mayling.
At present, sales staff use voice mobile phones to notify orders from stores, and this necessitates a lot of re-keying by the order processing staff at home base. With the handhelds — still to be chosen — the information will go straight into the central system, saving time and effort and reducing the potential for mistakes. This alone, the company has calculated, will give sufficient return on investment within a reasonable period.
The handhelds will be at two levels, says Mayling: “a simplistic [offline] one, which will go back to a cradle at night and be synchronised with the central databases”, and a true mobile, capable of supplying and receiving information in real time.
Real-time order entry without re-keying will take Rothfords closer to the ideal of “just in time” delivery, right down the chain from the original, often overseas, supplier, saving money for the retailer in reduced inventory.
Information received by the mobile staffer might relate to special promotions, for example, or the previous sales history of the retailer.
But a wealth of information beyond the order might eventually be transmitted back; information, for example, on how well certain lines are selling.
“We are the eyes and ears of our suppliers,” Mayling says. Hitherto, Rothfords has had to rely on analyses of scan data from third-party survey.