SUPERVALU REGION MULLS INTERACTIVE BUYING

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Northwest region of Supervalu here is evaluating interactive buying technology, used by retailers at Supervalu trade shows, to facilitate automatic order entry to the wholesaler's warehouses.To use this automatic system, retailers are presented with a 3.5-inch computer disk with store-specific information. When retailers attending a show go to make a purchase, they present the disk

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Northwest region of Supervalu here is evaluating interactive buying technology, used by retailers at Supervalu trade shows, to facilitate automatic order entry to the wholesaler's warehouses.

To use this automatic system, retailers are presented with a 3.5-inch computer disk with store-specific information. When retailers attending a show go to make a purchase, they present the disk to the vendor, who inserts it in a laptop computer at the booth.

Each vendor has his own product information stored in the laptop. The retailer provides quantity, price and date for the order, which is then stored on both the retailer's disk and the vendor's laptop.

In addition, once each hour, the orders are backed up on another laptop computer that is taken around to each booth. Orders are downloaded to the central control booth without interrupting any activities. This backup procedure provides hourly totals of orders.

At the end of the trade show, retailers can go to the control center to obtain a printed copy of the products they purchased. As a result, retailers and vendors can keep track of what they have bought and sold, and the show management can easily measure total activity volume.

"I'm very high on it. I think it's a great system," said Jack Michel, Northwest regional director of information services for Supervalu. He said the system will probably be in place for the region's spring show in March 1998.

Supervalu's Midwest region has used the system since 1994, and its Southeast region used it last month at a regional show with 300 booths selling food and general merchandise. The Southeast region aggregated all orders at the end of its show and coordinated them through its regional office, which then sent them to the appropriate warehouses for fulfillment.

"Retailers and vendors were most excited about being able to walk away from the show with a recap of what they had done as far as sales and bonus bucks, which is the incentive allowance the vendor paid to the retailers for show money," said Teresa Bowen, category manager of the Southeast region for Supervalu.

Previously, the ordering process was manual. To make a purchase, retailers would give the vendor a "tear strip," essentially a piece of paper with order information from the catalog. These tear strips were then manually calculated and summarized at the show, and manually sent back to the warehouse for key punching into the order-entry system, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Besides saving time, the computerized system also ensures basic information such as store number, warehouse number and item codes are attached to every order.

The interactive order system comes from J.T. Smith & Associates, Urbana, Ill.