Zellers stores across Canada have sold their employees on the benefits of advanced business intelligence reporting. Hudson’s Bay Co., the company that owns the chain, recently completed an upgrade across all 300-plus stores of its LIDS (Listed Inventory Database System) application.

Based on

Microsoft’s SQL Server database, LIDS helps manage stockroom inventory and ordering from suppliers.

“”The idea is for the store to know exactly what’s in their backroom, so as soon as their shelves become a little less than full, they bring it to the front,”” says Chris Marinis, manager of development services and information services at Toronto-based HBC.

LIDS was largely designed in-house, but there are several pieces that comprise Zellers’ inventory management. The point of sale devices are IBM technology. Once an item is scanned for sale, the inventory list is automatically deducted by one unit.

When products are shipped to the store by suppliers, barcodes on the bills of lading are scanned using Symbol LRT (Laser Radio Terminal) guns running over a Cisco 802.11b Wi-Fi infrastructure. That information is communicated to the database via QVS software.

HBC is also using Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Services to provide specific information on inventory management. Introduced at the beginning of this year, Reporting Services now ships standard with SQL Server. Those business intelligence tools can generate key performance indicators by querying the database with questions such as, “”What is the dollar value of the backroom inventory in a specific district?””

“”The different levels of the organization — right from your store associates to store manager to VP of district to VP of the entire chain — all have the ability to consume the information they need at the level that they need it,”” says Darren Massel, SQL Server product manager at Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada.

Retailers require this level of detail now in order to stay ahead of the vagaries of the industry, according to Rena Granofsky, a retail analyst at Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group.

“”The retail industry is really suffering in the stores from a lack of access to information,”” she says. “”It’s absolutely essential that the information get out there in order to manage the stores better, no question. The issue is that you can be flying blind in a store if you don’t have access to the right information.””

The feedback from Zellers employees at all levels has been overwhelmingly positive, Marinis says. “”They’re already thinking about how they can further advance this and maybe move to a LIDS 4.””

Employees used to take inventory by manually checking shelves and writing down the items running low before checking the stock room to see if there was inventory to replenish the stock. Now they have more time to attend to customers, says Marinis. HBC estimates that LIDS will save the company $5 million annually.

Marinis wouldn’t say whether LIDS will be rolled out across HBC’s other properties, which include 99 The Bay department stores and 45 Home Outfitters locations. He also wouldn’t speculate on what impact a change of ownership in Zellers would have for LIDS. Rumours of a sale of part or all of the Zellers chain to Minneapolis-based Target Corp. have become persistent amidst HBC’s second-quarter loss of $10.1 million.

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