OPEN SYSTEM TO UPGRADE COM, POS AT SAVE MART

MODESTO, Calif. -- Save Mart Supermarkets here is continuing its journey toward an open platform, facilitating the chainwide rollout of an upgraded PC-based point-of-sale system.The open architecture will also allow the retailer to incorporate additional front-end applications, including electronic payment systems and in-store communications.Save Mart, which is currently running a Unix-based front-end

MODESTO, Calif. -- Save Mart Supermarkets here is continuing its journey toward an open platform, facilitating the chainwide rollout of an upgraded PC-based point-of-sale system.

The open architecture will also allow the retailer to incorporate additional front-end applications, including electronic payment systems and in-store communications.

Save Mart, which is currently running a Unix-based front-end system, expects to complete its upgrade to a Windows-NT POS system next month.

"By deploying an open architecture we will have the opportunity to continually keep our front-end systems up-to-date and current," said Steve Gaines, operations project manager for Save Mart. "As individual components and applications develop and improve, we will no longer need to rely on software rewrites. We will no longer be limited, and can move along as technology progresses."

The retailer began its conversion to an open platform in June in order to operate a single front-end system throughout its traditional supermarkets and warehouse stores. Save Mart had operated up to 12 different POS systems in its 100 stores, Gaines said.

Save Mart's first step was to install a Unix-based system, provided by Stores Automated Systems, Bristol, Pa., in its 86 conventional supermarkets in October. "We installed this system on an interim basis," Gaines explained. "This is a proprietary system, but we installed it for the purpose of completing the rollout of an entirely open POS system."

By early January 1999, Save Mart will upgrade all stores "to a Windows-NT base to achieve the true benefits of the open platform," Gaines said. "All price files will be completely connected with our host system, which will allow a smoother checkout, and improved margins and sales."

In addition to improving the checkout experience for consumers, the new open platform will allow the retailer to explore additional applications to streamline its business, including a frequent-shopper program. Save Mart declined to comment whether it would launch a loyalty program.

The retailer will also use the open platform to improve its electronic-payment systems. "This rollout will allow us to fully integrate key pieces of payment technology directly through POS," Gaines said.

"We had two-thirds of our stores with stand-alone payment systems before we switched to open architecture," he added. "Efficiency and accuracy will increase dramatically because now we can balance all electronic payments automatically, rather than through a separate system."

Another area that Save Mart will pursue through the new architecture is the use of communications tools at the front end.

"We will take a hard look at linking communications tools through the open platform, such as paging products that can interface with POS, and our telephone and intercom systems," Gaines explained.

For example, Save Mart is exploring a pager system that would allow checkers to alert managers that a loyal customer is in the store or about the need to retrieve money during a shift, directly from their checkstand.

"The POS system can send an electronic page to a manager wearing a pager, alerting him that money needs to be picked up or that he should greet a frequent shopper in line," he said. "The technology is in its infancy, but it can be an opportunity for us to take a lot of clutter and noise out of our intercom system and total store broadcast network."

Save Mart expects to begin exploring the technology's possibilities by the second quarter of 1999, according to Gaines.