COMMERCE, Calif. -- Smart & Final here expects to share company-specific, real-time sales data with up to 220 of its suppliers by the end of the year using a Web-based system it began rolling out in February following a year-long pilot.
The system, TransAccess, from afterBOT, Norcross, Ga., currently allows about 100 vendors of varying sizes to view their particular sell-through data at the chain, down to the individual store and stockkeeping unit, via a Web portal, according to Zeke Duge, senior vice president and chief information officer, Smart & Final. At least one supplier reports virtually eliminating out-of-stocks using the system.
The suppliers can use the system "when they do new item cut-in to see where it is taking effect," Duge said. Direct-store-delivery suppliers, he added, can use the system "to get a good idea of what's moving and needs to be refreshed" at the store level. He described the system as "a significant step to shortening the supply chain."
Robert Graham, vice president, stores technology, Smart & Final, called the system "our version of [Wal-Mart's] Retail Link but much cheaper." Duge said the afterBOT system "is more user-friendly and localized than Retail Link." Retail Link is the well-known extranet employed for years by Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., to channel sales information to its suppliers. Few other retailers have this capability.
Smart & Final, a $2 billion retailer that operates 240 nonmembership warehouse-style stores in six Western states and Mexico, recently held a meeting for 220 vendors where the afterBOT system was explained and demonstrated. "We told them that early adopters who integrated it into their systems will own their marketplaces," said Duge. Laggards, he advised, "would never catch up."
One DSD supplier employing the system, Mountain Water Ice, Carson, Calif., has been able to "reduce out-of-stocks to almost zero" at Smart & Final stores, which do not have room for much back stock, said Michael Busch, an executive with the company. In the past, Mountain Water Ice would overcompensate with deliveries to prevent out-of-stocks, whereas the afterBOT system allows it to "back off and focus on true needs," he said. The company pays no fee for the data, he noted.
Mountain Water Ice obtains three types of data from Smart & Final: historical sales data (by units) for particular stores and UPCs; daily sales data per store; and e-mail alerts when a particular purchase exceeds a threshold (such as 50 20-pound bags). The company responds to alerts by calling a store to see if its inventory needs to be replenished. Duge said there was an occasion when the supplier had a more accurate view of a store's ice inventory than the store manager.
Mountain Water Ice, which supplies supermarket and convenience store retailers on the West Coast, does not receive real-time sales data from other retailers, who tend to have more back stock than Smart & Final, Busch said. If other retailers did offer the same service, "it would give vendors the tools to serve retailers better," he said.
The supplier portal is offered on a subscription fee basis, with payment coming from the retailer or participating suppliers, said Jim Nadler, vice president, marketing and business development, afterBOT. Smart & Final is the first retailer to deploy the system.
The afterBOT system relies on a real-time "trickle-feed" of point-of-sale data, which is channeled to a data repository via a mechanism provided by Matra Systems, Duluth, Ga. The data is converted into a standards-based format and made available to the afterBOT system, which puts it on a Web portal accessed by suppliers. Both afterBOT and Matra employ data standards developed by the Association for Retailing Technology Standards (ARTS), a division of the National Retail Federation, Washington.
The chain has also used the afterBOT system since 2002 to provide its business, government and consumer customers Web access to "digital receipts" for merchandise purchased at the stores. "Our business customers love it," said Duge, noting that they can double check purchases or import data into applications such as Quicken. Municipalities have also made use of the digital receipt information for "check and balances" and to adhere to Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, he said.