NEW YORK — Among other emerging retail technologies, merchandise optimization, considered the hottest right now, will be explored by the new "retail technology leaders council" formed by the International Mass Retail Association.

The council held its first meeting April 6 to 8 in Dallas to establish priorities and set the mission, and so far includes about 25 retailers and suppliers seeking to increase profits and efficiencies through technology innovations and greater cooperation — something that’s been lacking in retail.

"We absolutely want to look at optimization further," said Cathy Hotka, senior technology consultant at IMRA, who will supervise the committee, along with Don Gilbert, another senior technology consultant to the group.

Aside from merchandise optimization, which involves using software to better schedule markdowns and clear out merchandise, future technologies include radio frequency identification, known as RFID, and the implementation microchips for RFID. Like bar codes, the RFID would provide stockkeeping unit information, including style, size and color.

The implementation of standards in such areas as shipping are also on the agenda. According to Hotka, the council will be "a complimentary function" to the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards Association, known as VICS, which works to improve the efficiency of the entire supply chain. "We will take a look at standards created by others and discuss experiences in implementing them. The retail industry is unspeakably huge, and to settle on one group makes no sense. Retailing has not had enough different kinds of committees. In other industries, it is quite common, but not in retail."

RFID chips in the future could be embedded in merchandise to provide more information on transactions, though currently, it’s cost-prohibitive. "Gillette has already said it will be major player in RFID," Hotka said.

Among the companies at the meeting were AutoZone, Best Buy Co., The Coca-Cola Co., Del Laboratories, The Disney Store, Energizer Battery Co., Genesco, Gillette., Hollywood Video, Hudson’s Bay Co., J.C. Penney Co., Mattress Giant, Michaels Stores, Panasonic, Target Corp., Unilever and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

According to Jeff Roster, Gartner’s principal analyst for global industries- retail, "IMRA’s establishment of this committee is further evidence of the importance of retailer-supplier collaboration. There was ample evidence in the Dallas meeting of the steadily increasing technocentric nature of retail, and the ability of technically advanced retailers and manufacturers to drive the industry."The council plans to meet several times a year. Its next session will be Sept. 7 to 9 in Tucson.

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