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Maximizing Technology

Talking with a number of retailers in recent months, the role of technology in merchandising is becoming more and more of a factor in their overall business activities.

For some, it's a matter of giving consumers a broad range of information — perhaps more detailed and understandable than hang tags and sales personnel pitches.

For others it is clearly a link to sales — whether directly on the Internet, or in the store with the information digested and the transaction made in either channel.

And for a few others, it is an opportunity to stretch the store assortments, bring into the assortment something "daring," or even an item or two that never had been carried. This is happening even at the biggest of the retailing organizations, where a run through the offerings of Internet-only product can be far different from that in the stores.

What this approach can produce is a faster response time in-store to new and trend merchandise.

But even more, say a number of retailers, it is an opportunity to really get to know their customers. Through technology, some retailers are capable of identifying what customers are looking for — down to color, size, price point, comfort and on. And reports from some indicate that these pieces of data are contributing to a reshaping of assortment whether by location, economic strata, size of store — or more.

Then there is the very recent move this spring by JCPenney to coordinate its direct — catalog and Internet business with its retail activities. The game plan the company indicated was to enable customers in the stores to tap in to the expanded assortment on the Internet and in the catalog via a personal walk-through with an in-store sales person.

And at Macy's, has been a resounding success pulling customers into the stores from the presentation on the website. Equally important, has become known for offering merchandise and price points clearly different from the in-store assortments.

It looks like technological advances are making a serious impact on what customers are being offered in-store. Hopefully, technology will not supplant the age-old merchants' instinct but instead act as a strong support partner.

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