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In The Aisles…Pricing Accuracy Through Wireless Portable Printing

As one of America's largest retailers, this Bentonville, Arkansas-based company faces a daily challenge of maintaining accurate pricing of all merchandise across its entire chain of stores-making sure that each shelf is labeled appropriately and that each product is priced correctly in the system upon check-out.

Further complicating the task is that the prices of more than 1000 products change every week, and up to five percent of the company's inventory changes in any given month. As recently as the early 1990s, these changes were sent via fax or e-mail and were printed out by store managers at each location. A night shift was required to print out appropriate shelf labels, canvass the store to put these labels on corresponding shelves, and manually updating pricing information into the store's main computer for the check-out terminals. For the average store, these tasks required 20 employees to work six hours after the store closed-with one dedicated to data entry.

"Every week we'd forfeit nearly 20 percent of our profits from each promotion through the cost of setting up for the sale," recalled the chain's operations manager. "Even after spending all of this time and money, human error was nearly out of control. The price of merchandise on the shelf frequently didn't match the price at check-out. Our customers were frustrated, which was compromising customer loyalty and company reputation, not to mention the added time involved to correct the errors."

The retail chain adopted a corporate-wide pricing network with frame-relay host-to-store communication; a wireless, 2.4 GHz frequency-hopping LAN in every store, and network addressable Zebra portable printers to move the operation onto the floor.

Today, the company uses a team of price checkers to update prices and ensure that shelf labels match check-out counter prices. Each price checker is armed with a small handheld terminal capable of scanning existing shelf labels and a Zebra portable printer that wirelessly connects both devices to the store's network.

Only an hour before the store opens, each price checker is given an area of the store to update. The name or product number of the item to update appears on the terminal screen, and the user simply scans the existing bar coded shelf label. The terminal and printer send a confirmation message to the host system, and the printer automatically prints the new shelf label to replace the old one. If the product is not the one with the new price, the terminal will return an error and ask the user to scan another item. The system is programmed to pick the route that requires minimal time for each checker and enables him or her to complete the task in less than 45 minutes.

Even better, the system is so unintrusive, that these same checkers can verify and change shelf labels while the store is open. The new label price will always match that at check-out since there is no manual entry of data.

"What once took nearly 120 man-hours to complete while the store was earning zero revenue now takes two or three hours, and our accuracy is flawless," noted the operations manager. "Not only are our customer s assured of getting the price they expected from shelf to check-out, but they are also assured of the lowest price, because we aren't wasting time and money manually maintaining price accuracy."