- Marcelo Fleitas, VP of Information Technology
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One of the tenets of excellent service is to provide clear communication with customers. In order to meet that goal, retailers must have excellent two-way communication with their suppliers first. Data — and its analysis — needs not only to be accurate, but also to be shared with vendors. When expectations are clearly defined, retailers can expect to be able to deliver a high quality customer experience.
Today's shoppers also want quite a bit of information about the products they are interested in buying. More than just wondering about cost, customers are routinely asking questions concerning products' origin, fair trade status, material, etc. For retailers, gathering that type of specific information for hundreds – sometimes thousands – of products and then communicating it to multiple store locations and to customers is an enormous IT undertaking.
Earthbound Trading Co. identified that challenge, and knew also that addressing it properly would be tremendously beneficial both in revenue and in customer experience – so the retailer chose Retail Pro POS and retail management software as the solid backbone to their tech strategy.
Earthbound Trading is a lifestyle retailer that sells an eclectic mix of globally sourced products and focuses on minerals, native art, hand-crafted items, essential oils, incense and jewelry. Its 136 stores are found within regional shopping malls, tourist markets and outlet centers in the US.
"Customers in today’s world request a lot of information, so we need to provide it," said Marcelo Fleitas, VP of Information Technology at Earthbound Trading.
But at that time, they did not have the technology tools to do it.
Back in 2001, Fleitas explained, Earthbound had five computers, Internet dial-up service – yes, it was AOL -- and merchandise was replenished by faxing orders to headquarters. Products were stored in a warehouse, counted visually, and tracked using spreadsheets. Despite having 30 stores, no formal analytics were in place. Feedback was given by managers over the phone. The entire infrastructure was clearly not tech friendly. "It was horrible," he commented.
The company still managed to do very well, but it realized that technology would really make operations efficient.
"The first thing we did was acquire Retail Pro POS software,” Fleitas said. Earthbound Trading worked with their Retail Pro Business Partner, Retail Information Systems, for all their software needs. “We wanted to be able to tailor the user interface to our workflow, and you can do that easily with Retail Pro. Also, we needed to send information to our vendors overseas in a more efficient manner."
The company initially used Retail Pro 8 throughout its business. It was flexible and easy to use. Within a few years, it upgraded to the newer product, Retail Pro 9, a "real game changer." The platform became the foundation for modules such as tools for bank reconciliation, store replenishment and importing shipping and payment information.
The analytics made possible with Retail Pro made weekly replenishment a breeze. "When we started using replenishment functionality in Retail Pro, we saw business grow 20 percent," Fleitas said.
Like many retailers, one of the biggest challenges Earthbound Trading faces is collaboration with vendors, particularly those from other countries.
Earthbound Trading deals with all sorts of partners, big and small vendors as well as with various departments such as accounting and marketing — including the photographers who take inventory pictures for the online store.
"We really had to create a collaboration tool with an efficient workflow," Fleitas explained. Much of what Earthbound Trading sells are unique items from exotic locations, from small towns and villages in China or Brazil, for example. So the retailer often deals with import regulations, which makes it crucial to know and understand customs codes and capture product history. Keeping accurate records that can be recalled easily is also critical.
So Fleitas and his team created a portal where they can directly communicate with vendors and vice versa.
All of Earthbound Trading's internal departments can interact within the system, creating new orders and providing a central means of communication. Questions are answered quickly so decisions are made promptly and are supported by product knowledge directly from the manufacturer or distributor. Having more product knowledge helps close more sales as well.
Now, with a solid way for internal staff to collaborate with vendors, the Earthbound Trading is working on a way to deliver product information from vendors to customers, all while growing an online presence and providing an exceptional customer experience for the target customer.
For years Earthbound Trading relied on Retail Pro software to accomplish their tech strategy, and routinely upgrades to latest releases and products. Now, seeing the need for more flexibility and more connected data, the company is ready to modernize again. The next step in Earthbound Trading’s plan is to unify all of their technologies with the Retail Pro Prism platform software, the latest addition to the Retail Pro lineup.
Retail Pro Prism is intuitive to a retailer's needs and offers a fully customizable User Interface (UI) that is intuitive, easy-to-use and adaptable – giving Earthbound Trading total control over the workflow. Through the scriptable XML/CSS user interface, Retail Pro Prism will provide Earthbound Trading with even more flexibility, so the software can be tailored to fit their unique supply chain collaboration needs, operations and branding.
“I was amazed at how Retail Pro Prism works, because the platform is exactly what we need,” Fleitas commented during a retailer panel at a recent Retail Pro user conference. “The last piece of the puzzle for our tech strategy is to feed that information to Retail Pro Prism and because it’s based on APIs, everything can be integrated.”
Retail Pro Prism is a flexible platform software with an open Application Program Interface, so the Earthbound Trading IT department can integrate their collaboration tools and other software from various departments, whether they are in the same town, or oceans apart, helping them run a successful omnichannel operation.