SEARS GOES WIRELESS
Byline: Valerie Seckler
NEW YORK — Sears, Roebuck & Co. is mounting a new wireless act.
The nation’s second-largest retailer — which has struggled for the past year to reignite sluggish sales of soft goods — is turning to mobile technology to help move merchandise and information to and from its 860 stores on a more timely basis.
The setup is straightforward: The $40 billion retail firm is just starting to roll out 15,000 wireless handheld computers, supplied by Symbol Technologies, designed to speed up computer-based applications that are critical to improving merchandising and customer service. The handheld devices will allow Sears to wirelessly address inventory allocation, receipt, and replenishment and implement price changes such as markdowns. Additionally, they’ll speed receipt of various products at the store from distribution centers, after those goods have been bought by customers, like appliances that are too large to be kept on the selling floor or in the backroom.
“To be frank, they needed to go into a wireless situation,” said Frank Riso, director of marketing for the retail and logistics units of Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol. “They need the mobility to access crucial information in-store, rather than going back to an office to retrieve data that may not be timely.”
For example, the SPT 1740 mobile computers allow a Sears salesperson who is assisting a customer to communicate in real time with warehouse personnel regarding shipment of an item the customer has purchased to that Sears location, by electronically transmitting the bar code data on that item, among other information. That should shave some serious time off the traditional method of accomplishing that transaction — moving a paper request from store to warehouse.
In a statement issued Tuesday by Symbol, Michael LeRoy, director of store operations at Sears, said: “The lightweight portability of the Symbol 1740 makes it an excellent device to support wireless computing in our department stores.” The Symbol handhelds are based on the Palm O/S operating system and were described by Riso as a “Palm-like device, one with a good-sized screen in a smaller scanner.” Sears officials were unavailable for further comment Tuesday.
The mobile tech deal, for undisclosed cash terms, also calls for Symbol to furnish Sears with 25,000 Spectrum 24 WLAN, or wireless local area network, cards that facilitate wireless operation of in-store devices such as cash registers, printers and time clocks. “The [spread of the] 802.11 wireless standard means equipment used in stores, like printers, scales, and clocks, can become wireless,” Riso observed, “and this has been a catalyst in the growing adaptation of mobile technologies in-store that we’ve seen this year.” Indeed, the Symbol handhelds are compatible with the IEEE 802.11 wireless local area network infrastructure Sears currently has in place.
Just last week, Riso said, Symbol did a similar wireless technology deal with Kmart Corp., and earlier this month, as reported in WWD, Belk’s Inc. retrofitted a business-to-consumer mobile shopping application onto handhelds from Symbol’s Telxon unit, which the regional department store chain had been using strictly to manage back-end operations.