COMPUTERIZED PARCEL SHIPPING DELIVERS

Kroger Co., Meijer Inc. and H.E. Butt Grocery are among several major chains that have implemented or are testing a state-of-the-art computerized parcel shipping system.Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., began installing the Shipping Wizard system in August, and plans to roll it out to 99 units in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois by Oct. 31, according to an industry source. Meijer executives were unavailable

Kroger Co., Meijer Inc. and H.E. Butt Grocery are among several major chains that have implemented or are testing a state-of-the-art computerized parcel shipping system.

Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., began installing the Shipping Wizard system in August, and plans to roll it out to 99 units in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois by Oct. 31, according to an industry source. Meijer executives were unavailable for comment.

Two stores in Kroger's Columbus, Ohio, division are also testing it, while a Charlottesville, Va., flagship unit in Kroger's Mid-Atlantic region, Roanoke, Va., has been using the system's software since August. The store has retained its own hardware.

Bill Wall, assistant manager of store operations at Kroger, said the Shipping Wizard, supplied by Express Shipping Centers, Fairfield, Iowa, is an asset to the chain's parcel shipping business.

"It has improved clerk efficiency by cutting labor time down and virtually eliminating transaction errors," he said. H.E. Butt, San Antonio; Randalls Food Markets, Houston, and Big Bear Stores, Columbus Ohio, are piloting the Shipping Wizard at two stores each, according to trade sources. Executives from all three chains were unavailable for comment.

Wall of Kroger said the Shipping Wizard is more efficient because it speeds parcel shipping services. Under traditional formats, the majority of tasks are handled manually. Store personnel need to look up pricing information and weigh packages on a scale. In comparison, the Shipping Wizard automatically calculates weight, charges and a shipping manifest, along with revenues and profits. Wall said there's a growing demand for mailing services, especially in light of the popularity of mail-order catalog shopping. He said mail-order catalog companies typically inform customers about where to go to ship merchandise that needs to be returned.

The 120-store Mid-Atlantic Kroger division is planning to roll the Shipping Wizard into its 20 higher-volume stores by the end of the year, he said. According to Wall, mailing transactions carry a built-in service fee of up to $1.50, which is shared between the manufacturer and the chain. The cost to purchase the system ranges from $900 to $3,400, depending on components selected, according to Steve Shier, director of new product development at Express Shipping Centers. Monthly leases run from $20 to $77, Shier said.

Sept. 15, Express Shipping Centers kicked off a six-week marketing campaign in the Columbus, Ohio, area. TV, radio, print and in-store ads were used to raise customer awareness of supermarket parcel shipping services.

The Shipping Wizard encompasses about four square feet of space, and contains an IBM-compatible computer, digital electronic scale and dot matrix and thermal printer. It also has facsimile and modem capabilities.