ELECTRONIC MARKETING SHOW TO EXPLORE NEW SOLUTIONS

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Retailers are turning to new technology in electronic marketing to recapture "the old days" when shopowners knew each customer by name.perceive real value."Electronic frequent shopper programs are going to be around for some time but once everybody gets one, it no longer provides added value. The only way you're going to get additional value is to define yourself differently,"

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Retailers are turning to new technology in electronic marketing to recapture "the old days" when shopowners knew each customer by name.

perceive real value.

"Electronic frequent shopper programs are going to be around for some time but once everybody gets one, it no longer provides added value. The only way you're going to get additional value is to define yourself differently," said an executive at a major Southeastern chain.

"The flexibility of your frequent shopper program will be your secret weapon, not whether you have one or not," he said.

Finding new ways to make the most of electronic marketing is gaining in importance as retailers head to industry seminars such as GemCon, the electronic marketing conference to get under way here April 1 and 2. The meeting is sponsored by Retail Systems Consulting, Naples, Fla., and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington.

One East Coast retailer, a strong advocate of electronic data base marketing, warned against jumping the gun and launching a program for the wrong reasons.

"Just because this is a hot subject and these sessions are always packed houses isn't the reason to do it," said Michael Julian of Farm Fresh, Norfolk, Va., at a recent industry conference. "Don't do it because everybody else is doing it and you're afraid

you won't be up with the times.

"You should do this because you have some business end result you are targeting," said the chain's president, chairman and chief executive officer.

Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind., which is now outfitting 13 stores with new data base marketing technology, has clear objectives in mind for its program. The chain is also looking at how kiosk technology might fit into the equation.

Interactive kiosks can add new dimensions to promotional programs, said Doug Murphy, store operations specialist.

"Our customers could scan their [frequent shopper] cards at a kiosk and we could direct deals or recipes targeted to that customer via a computer screen or through couponing.

Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., is exploring opportunities in electronic marketing but has not yet decided to move forward. "We have looked at two or three different packages in the last year, but we haven't found anything that meets our needs," said Jim Antz, director of management information systems and electronic data processing.

He observed that the growing emphasis on in-store marketing is changing the dynamics of how his department functions. "There seems to be a decentralization of the IS function in that we now have marketing [staff] looking at what typically would be an IS responsibility, such as in-store marketing," Antz said.

Farm Fresh's Julian said data base marketing holds the potential for retailers to more effectively compete with new market players.

"We must know every customer. We must know them like [we did in] the old days. With 35,000 customers a week is that possible? Probably not for any single manager but with today's technology we can accomplish it.

"We have the opportunity to take every single customer who comes in and build our program so it's tailored directly to what that customer wants -- to treat that customer as if this store is exclusively theirs."