Western & English Today

FALL 2018

W&E Today provides retailers and manufacturers with education and ideas that provoke innovation in the Western and English markets.

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FALL 2018 Western & English Today 15 A lison Anderson comes from a family of retailers. Her grandfather owned a general store, her mother owned and managed a gi store, and Anderson opened her fi rst apparel and home store, A. Dodson's, 15 years ago. "Retail is in my blood," she says. "It's what I do." Despite her lineage and experience — she now owns fi ve businesses in Virginia — Anderson is not immune to the challenges that retailers confront daily. She says that one issue has been the overwhelming work required to obtain and update the product information that is so crucial for her point of sale (POS) systems, online stores, and catalogs. Anderson had to hire a full-time employee who spent all day at a computer, updating each product's data a er asking vendors for spec- ifi cations and images or searching the vendors' websites. Her stores typically have about 8,000 active SKUs, and the manual data entry took anywhere from three to 15 minutes per product, an amount of time that Anderson describes as a "beast." And she is some- what fortunate in that her POS system transfers all product data and changes to her online stores through "bridging" so ware; some retailers have to update product in- formation once for their POS and again for their e-commerce site. While big-box chains have the leverage to make demands — such as requiring vendors to supply complete product information and specifi c specs — Anderson says that mom-and-pop retailers don't have that power. "So many small busi- nesses go out of business in the fi rst fi ve years — and not that it's the only contributing factor — but I'd say [data entry is] a large one," she says. Eventually, Anderson decided there had to be a better way to obtain product information. She went to some of her top vendors, like Mud Pie and Evergreen, and asked if anything could be done. Luckily, they were in touch with Whereoware, a Virginia-based digital agency and so ware company, which was already at work on a solution to these data frustrations. Product FastLane, launched by Whereoware in May 2017, is an innovative online platform that wholesalers use for storing and managing product data and imag- es as well as distributing this information to third-party marketplaces. When Whereoware heard Anderson's per- spective, it expanded Product FastLane by enabling retailers to log on and simply export detailed product data directly from its vendors. "Instead of having to reach out to the wholesaler and collect this information, [retailers] can go to one place, download it all, and know that it's accurate," says Alyson Hunter, senior internal marketing manager for Whereoware. "It makes their lives a lot easier, and it makes the vendors' lives a lot easier. So it became a very symbiotic relationship." While wholesalers pay to use Product FastLane and enjoy a broad suite of functions, retailers pay nothing. ey can create free Product FastLane accounts, which allow them to see a list of partici- pants and request access to specif- ic users. Retailers are then able to view and fi lter products by name or SKU number. And, according to Dan Caro, Whereoware's senior director of product management, Product FastLane is working on an update that will allow wholesalers to send customized SKU lists for each order to retailers. Retailers then select specifi c products or groups of products and download all of the corre- sponding product information in a single Excel spreadsheet, as well as multiple product images labeled by SKU. Retailers can format and edit these spreadsheets as desired, independently share them with third-party marketplaces, and upload them to a majority of POS systems, which typically commu- nicate with online stores. Caro says that in addition to the streamlined process, retailers also benefi t from wholesalers' compelling product descriptions and specs. " at tends to trickle down," he says. "Because vendors make the prod- uct data better using Product FastLane, and that informa- tion can be shared with retailers, then the retailers' product data becomes better, too." For Anderson, the tool has drastically improved her data management process and other aspects of her business. "To have [product information] all in one place and be able to [get] it in basically two clicks of a button, for however many products, is game-changing," she says. Product FastLane has allowed her employees to spend less time on manual data entry and more time forecasting and analyzing sales "TO HAVE [PRODUCT INFORMATION] ALL IN ONE PLACE AND BE ABLE TO [GET] IT IN BASICALLY TWO CLICKS OF A BUTTON, FOR HOWEVER MANY PRODUCTS, IS GAME-CHANGING." —ALISON ANDERSON PHOTOGRAPHY: SHUTTERSTOCK, COURTESY A. DODSON'S

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