CourierPost's red-hot retail plot

Retail in the publishing industry is on the brink of a revolution, with CourierPost using technology to reshape the distribution game.

Retail in the publishing industry is on the brink of a revolution, with CourierPost using technology to reshape the distribution game.

The Auckland-based courier firm's system cuts the sales data gathering process in the retail environment from as long as two months to minutes, as confirmed by those in the publishing industry.

The company is in talks with a major New Zealand newspaper to use CourierPost's Track and Trace technology to gather sales data. Track and Trace is a system compiled of van-mounted mobile data terminals which enable drivers to precisely record the time of package deliveries and speed up response to customer enquiries. It offers near-to-real-time electronic tracking and the ability to record, store and forward digital signatures. The general manager of CourierPost, Steve Gill, did not want the name of the newspaper published as yet. "We've talked up the concept with a number of newspapers and have more than passing interest," he says. "We have one hot prospect."

The system has the potential to take orders, add value to delivery capability and monitor products, says Gill.

"The network currently provides exposure to the delivery status of the item to existing customers through the Track and Trace platform, but beyond that we see a real opportunity in terms of order gathering and other data capture.

"At the moment, we receive about 90% of that information into Track and Trace within two hours of delivery - a year ago the process could take three to four days," he says.

The move into the retail environment is an extension of the scanning capabilities. "We've got 550 couriers out there and we've got this data gathering capability for more than our own delivery purposes.

"What we are looking to do is use our in-vehicle technology to add value to our delivery offer into the retail environment.

"Essentially that would be through scanning a barcode at the delivery point, filling in the number of copies of publications we're dropping off, filling in the number of returns from the previous day and then getting the retailer to sign for that on the electronic scratch pad.

"The courier then returns to the van and docks the scanner and downloads that delivery and sales information directly to the customer's sale's database," he says.

The information would then be available to the customer within a few minutes of the courier returning to his vehicle.

CourierPost is already using the functionality in New Zealand Post for production and maintenance information.

"We scan the post boxes and post shops which provides us with production information for the Letters Group of New Zealand Post and also provides maintenance information on the status of the boxes. The production is on how full or otherwise the box was, which helps in determining the number of clearances we need on a daily basis," he says.

Meg Rogers, finance and circulation manager for Computerworld and PC World publisher IDG, says the technology will impact significantly in the distribution environment. It could also change where publications are sold as they may be moved to a more viable site.

This is especially true with seasonal publications, as one may move them to a different outlet for a particular season if the market is there, says Rogers.

Through AC Nielson, IDG receives weekly information scanned at supermarkets which assists projections, however the scanning facilities are not available in any other outlets.

A major benefit, says Rogers, will be analysing how new publications are doing in the market. "Where you have a set pattern for established publications, such as PC World, it is easier to project figures, but with new publications one cannot do it until the product has been on the market for some time," she says.

Managing director of Independent Magazine Distributors (IMD) Simon Gleeson acknowledges the benefits of the change and the impact it will have on the publication distribution business. "It would be a huge benefit to the major weekly titles and daily newspapers. There would be considerable advantages from print runs and sales efficiencies. If you can get your returns back in good time then you can fine-tune what goes out - which is a cost saving."

In the long-term there will be an impact on IMD, Gleeson says, but the technology is "exciting" and his company will probably embrace it in the future as "our publishers would demand it".

Courier Post is a business unit within New Zealand Post. It has 24 depots in 18 locations and 1200 people in the organisation.

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