IGA PLANS TO EXPAND ITS USAGE OF INTERNET

CHICAGO -- The Independent Grocers Alliance here was set to push for a 25% increase in participation in a "members-only" section of its World Wide Web home page at a company conference last week.IGA also used the merchandising, advertising and promotional conference -- held in Orlando, Fla., and estimated to have drawn more than 600 IGA retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers -- to gauge retailer

CHICAGO -- The Independent Grocers Alliance here was set to push for a 25% increase in participation in a "members-only" section of its World Wide Web home page at a company conference last week.

IGA also used the merchandising, advertising and promotional conference -- held in Orlando, Fla., and estimated to have drawn more than 600 IGA retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers -- to gauge retailer interest in having their own Web pages and Internet-based home shopping programs.

The retail alliance is working on a number of fronts to provide its independent members the means to compete on a level playing field on the Internet with their larger competitors, said Jim Anderson, vice president of management information systems at IGA.

IGA's members-only page, which he called a "quasi-intranet," is a prime way for retailers to gain information on upcoming promotions and voice concerns or complaints on merchandising and supply chain issues, Anderson said.

The site, accessible by password through IGA's main Web site (http://www.igainc.com), is available to all retail and wholesale members free of charge, he said. Preferred manufacturers also have access to the site.

"We've got 300 people signed up on this [members-only] site and we're going to be pushing it very hard at the MAP conference," Anderson said. "Our goal is to have 1,000 members by the end of the year."

In addition, IGA wants to see about 100 weekly electronic message transmissions on the site by year's end, and at least 1,000 per week by late 1997, he said. Currently, about 10 to 15 messages are exchanged weekly on the site.

"We just had a news group message where a young store manager from Ohio posted a message asking for ideas on how to better serve customers, and an Australian retailer gave him some great promotional ideas," Anderson said. "That's a perfect example of what I wanted this site to be."

IGA is also moving to design individual Web pages for its retail members.

"We have about 20 retailers who are pounding at our doors and sending us a lot of E-mail, and we've put them off because we wanted to get one Web site done in a prototype fashion."

IGA's first page was designed for Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., and went live late last month, Anderson said. IGA is monitoring responses to the Copps page (http:\\www.copps.com) before committing to a widespread design and implementation of additional Web sites.

Once IGA is satisfied with the Copps site, it should be able to create additional member pages at a fairly fast rate, he said. "Now if a retailer in Phoenix wants to start [a Web site] with us, we have everything pretty much laid out already," he said.

IGA is also using the Copps site to monitor customer requests for an Internet-based home shopping program. Anderson said the alliance plans to begin home shopping with some of its members located in what it considers prime areas, such as university towns.

"It would be easier to facilitate home shopping with a small group of IGA stores in a local market that could have a collective pulling point" for assembling and delivering customer orders, he said. "We're looking for that kind of scenario."

As it expands the number of IGA retailer sites, the alliance also plans to create another main Web site that would serve as a user-friendly link to the burgeoning number of home pages.

"We're looking at setting up a new site called 'www.igasupermarkets.com,' " Anderson said, adding the site should be on-line by early 1997. "The first thing that will come up will be a retail locator and then you'll click on your spot on the map and jump right into the supermarket you want."