Innovative approaches that include everything from creating targeted e-mail promotional campaigns to individualised web pages based on intensive data mining were addressed at this year's National Retail Federation (NRF) annual convention. Following are some of the latest technologies, products and services on offer.

Answerthink Inc announced an alliance between its CFT Retail Solutions and retail solutions provider Retek Inc to implement its retail software and assist with user deployment and change management for middle market retailers and specialty merchants. As the premier integrator for Retek, Answerthink will implement the full suite of Retek software modules for customer relationship management, enterprise, logistics and supply chain processes.

Blue Martini, which provides comprehensive enterprise-scale e-business applications for multi-channel retailing, introduced Version 4.0 of both the B2C and B2B Editions of its software, featuring several new touch points, including e-mail and mobile wireless support, said Catherine Harding, director of retail solutions.

The e-mail features outbound campaign management, which supports highly targeted campaigns to customers, prospects and partners and tracks each recipient's response. The tool enables a company to deliver promotions, newsletters, product announcements, advertisements, surveys, invitations and so forth.

"For example, [if] you want to award customers who have purchased more than five times with a special offer, you can create a campaign using the tool," explained Harding.

Another new feature, mobile wireless support, provides the ability to run a version of the website on a palm device for an in-store associate or customer. Case in point: one of Blue Martini's customers, department store Belk, is employing handheld devices for customers to use in compiling their gift registries. The devices run off a radio frequency network, and as the desired products are scanned, the registry on the website is immediately populated and available to anyone.

Alternatively, the same technology can be put in the hands of a sales associate who can scan items a customer has taken into a dressing room and pull up a list of suggested cross sells that have already been created for the company's website, Harding elaborated.

Another innovative use of the web comes in the form of the new feature Customer Collaboration, which provides the ability to shop with a friend via the Internet. The "leader" of the shopping adventure sets up the session while the friend locks in his or her browser to the leader's and is "pulled" through the website.

The Collaboration feature also comes in handy for call centres, allowing a product specialist to walk a consumer through a website. Moreover, it is not just one-to-one but one-to-many, enabling, for example, a sales associate to "hold a seminar online with customers... to hear about new spring fashion trends," suggested Harding.

From a manufacturer angle, Levi Strauss & Co uses Blue Martini's website model minus the checkout piece. The company presents all of its styles online, brings the customer to the point of purchase transaction, and then Levi Strauss maps the customer to the page on the correct site (JC Penney or Macy's) on which that garment can be purchased, explained Harding. The same product shots reside on Levi Strauss', Macy's and JC Penney's sites.

"Levi's is using [Blue Martini's] content management to bundle up product images and then create an extensible markup language (XML) portable catalogue that they can ship out to the retailer, that the retailer then loads into their site," explained Harding.

"I think one of the key trends in the industry is that retailers want more support from manufacturers around content, and copy and attribution of products. Basically, as [so many new] frontiers of doing business are emerging, it becomes very important to have your content in a centralised database, in an organised content management form," she concluded.

Celarix, which counts Lands' End and Abercrombie & Fitch among its customers, offered its web-based supply chain solution for transportation procurement, logistics process management and detailed performance analysis and reporting. Featured as part of its solution was the newly released Celarix Visibility 3.0, which provides complete command of cargo in transit, from the time the purchase order is placed until it arrives at its final destination, explained Colleen Minton, director of public and investor relations.

Visibility links a company's internal systems, external vendors and service providers, and delivers comprehensive tracking and monitoring capabilities, real-time alerts and rules-based reports. This enables a shipper to actively manage the entire supply chain and all product movement from a desktop.

CommerceHub's supply chain solution streamlines business processes by providing complete visibility into the lifecycle of transactions, enabling instant enforcement of business rules and allowing for online order tracking and automated customer notifications.

The company featured its Supply -On-Demand solution, which allows businesses to automatically route orders from their web storefronts to vendors for drop-ship, direct-to-consumer fulfilment. This reduces the merchant's dependence on maintaining physical inventory, explained Frank Poore, president and CEO, who noted that the company's clients include iQVC.com, the online division of direct merchandising giant QVC.

Moreover, the virtual warehousing management system reduces the amount of capital tied down in warehouses and eliminates double shipping costs (vendor-to-retailer and retailer-to-consumer).

Fasturn, a direct sourcing solutions provider for manufacturers and retailers of apparel, textile and other made-to-order goods, announced the third launch of its Private Marketplace, which connects a single organisation with its established trading partners, providing a robust end-to-end solution featuring front-end design functionality all the way through logistics, explained Bill Huntington, senior account executive.

"Our footprint is very broad. ...On the front end we have strategic partners like Gerber and Retek ... [and our] open architecture [allows us to] pick up
their designs and collaborate in a Fasturn environment," he said.

The system tracks product in real-time and is exception based, meaning that all of the problems are brought to the top. Some of the new features of Version 3.0 are: alert-based messaging; automatic notification of quota category fills, which puts up a red flag when quota fills reach certain percent-ages; a cost calculator; and a cost component sheet.

"Most of the companies that we talk to, from the smallest importer or manufacturer to the largest retailer, spend anywhere from 25 per cent to 75 per cent of their time chasing data: shipping data, costing, negotiation
- they're looking through three-ring binders trying to find out negotiation history. This gives you one version of the truth and puts accountability back on both sides," said Huntington.

A buyer looking at a production report can "get an entire shot or dashboard view of every task that needs to be set or hit, and what the estimated date is and what the actual date was when each of these milestones was hit," said Huntington. Each task; name; milestone; length of time for completion; estimated, revised and actual date of completion; administrator of the task, etc, can be designated and tracked through the system.

"When we're meeting with potential clients, this is really where they see a majority of the value being added. Either they didn't have visibility into this, or they spent nine out of 10 hours a day trying to get this information. And it came from repetitive phone calls, to very aggressive and diligent follow up via e-mail, to redundant re-entering of data," he concluded.

IPNet, a North American-based company that plans to go global later this year, presented its eBizness suite of B2B-based software solutions for managing the entire business cycle, from supply chain collaboration to order placement and transaction management. IPNet allows all of a company's supply chain partners, regardless of their size or technology expertise, to transact business securely over the Internet.

IPNet eBizness suite is made up of four key products: eBizness Transact routes business objects and processes, such as purchase orders, invoices and advance shipping notices (ASNs) to trading partners, and supports traditional electronic data interchange (EDI), EDI via the Internet, XML, e-mail, FTP and HTTPs; eBizness Collaborate automates the data sharing process for such items as forecasts and sales and order projections and reconciles them to the actual numbers; eBizness Order enables web-based B2B order management, catalogue integration and real-time inventory views; and eBizness Map enables integration of e-business, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and legacy applications, through any-to-any data mapping.

"The two things that differentiate us from the competition are the high percentage of trading partner involvement and the speed of implementation. It's easy to install and it's easy to rollover from other systems," said Rick Lucas, manager of product marketing.

IPNet offers professional services to install the products as well as customisation services. The most complex software resides on the "hub" site, while the small- to medium-sized trading partners, or "spokes," host a less complex, less costly version of the software.

The smallest of trading partners, "your mom and pops," simply need web access. To simplify trading partner integration, IPNet introduced its Transact EZ Connect, a downloadable, pure Java client that enables a host company to rapidly connect and begin transacting business over the Internet with small- to medium-sized partners.

"It makes it very easy to deploy to massive numbers of trading partners," explained Leilani Smith, director of public relations. "If you're talking about 40 per cent to 50 per cent of your supply chain, that could be 1,500 to 2,000 suppliers that need this product and need to deploy it rapidly. They can all just access the web and download the Java programme, all in the same day."

For even smaller companies, IPNet offers Transact Web, which enables Internet-based participation for suppliers that would otherwise be unable to transact business electronically.

Log-Net Inc premiered Log-Net Version 4.0 of its international supply chain and logistics management software, which features increased B2B speed on the web and allows data entry directly onto the web, eliminating the need for increased staff to support the volumes of data entry needed in a client/server or mainframe-based environment, explained Christopher Prey, director of logistics service provider sales.

Log-Net's updated software has enhanced functionality in the areas of order management, transport management, warehousing, documentation, exception management and landed costs. The company, with clients including Jones New York, boasts a strong implementation team and a 90-day implementation cycle, added Prey.

Manugistics presented its NetWORKS suite of products with increased web-enabled functionality. NetWORKS provides supply chain and e-business solutions for enterprises and intelligent trading networks, including replenishment optimisation, collaborative planning, customer order allocation, consumer experience solutions and transportation optimisation.

Adding to its offerings, the company has become a player in the area of pricing and revenue optimisation with its December 2000 acquisition of Talus Solutions, explained Charles Baker, account manager.

Talus' Dynamic Pricing solution helps manage price lists for products in B2B and B2C commerce, producing increased revenues and profits. It works on the Internet, through traditional channels, or both, and uses a pricing engine that adjusts for such factors as market demand, product availability and customer price sensitivity.

Additionally, the Target Pricing solution develops a product price for each customer by determining the optimal price to offer on a competitive bid or product bundle. It does so by predicting customer response to a bid price and recommending the price that will best balance the trade-off between higher margins and winning the bid. Finally, to achieve maximum impact in a competitive market, the Promotion Pricing solution helps allocate promotion and incentive dollars by utilizing historical data, forecasting and market response models.

ProfitLogic, formerly known as Technology Strategy Inc (TSI), rolled out its price and revenue optimisation solutions, Planning4Profit, Allocating4Profit and Pricing4Profit, which use mathematical modelling to make sure the right amount of merchandise is in the right place at the right time and at the right price to drive revenues and profits, explained Julie Driscoll, director of marketing. The concept is "similar to management in the airline industry... where the price is always changing because they're using algorithms in the background to maximise per flight revenue," she said.

Counting among its customers such vertically integrated retailers as The Gap, Eddie Bauer, AnnTaylor and Gymboree, Profit-Logic uses its solutions to "tease out natural demand" for product by taking into account fundamental demand as well as causal factors such as seasonality, promotions and placement in the store, said Driscoll.

The solution shoulders the responsibility of determining how much to purchase, where to place it and how to price it.

Functioning as an application service provider (ASP) model, the software, combined with a team of consultants, collects and analyses historical sales and inventory, disaggregating the data to determine the different influences on sales. With this information, a retailer can make optimal decisions around buying, allocating and pricing.

QRS featured its suite of four product and service segments that include eCommerce, Content, Applications and the Tradeweave Marketplace. Each area provides a different set of tools to help retailers, vendors, manufacturers and carriers more efficiently meet the challenges of global trade. These solutions meet the needs of the full product life cycle, including networking, product sourcing, content management, collaborative planning, electronic buying and selling and logistics.

The company's large footprint means that "from the point that you need to think about buying something, we can help you source it, buy it, sell it, ship it, take images of it and present it on your website to your final consumer. We can make sure all the communication is happening among all the partners of the e-commerce community that you're dealing in," explained Sue Welch, senior vice president for applications services.

QRS, with 9,000 clients, including Liz Claiborne, Warnaco, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Zara, is "applying [its wide range of solutions] to what we think are trends in the future," said Welch.

In this vein, QRS is working with a group of Italian manufacturers and a new concept called pechetto, which involves the coming together of diverse manufacturers to deliver complete and individual looks to stores, in multiple items - essentially creating a different lifestyle for each store.

Pechetto takes the concept of fashion - which typically is not thought of as something that can be replenished - and "turns that idea on its head," said Welch. All the elements of a look - for example, the apparel, the footwear, the accessories - are part of a single vision.

Moreover, rather than simply offering mid-season replenishment, the group will also refresh the collection, providing new items that can accompany or enhance its initial instalment. QRS is the technology that drives this concept by collecting and analysing the sales data and feeding it to the manufacturers.

As for the bottom line, the results from the group of Italian manufacturers and their Italian retailer partner were a 60 per cent increase in sales and a turn increase of about 400 per cent. "There became a compelling reason for you to walk in that store. It was new. It was exciting. It wasn't the same thing everybody else was carrying," said Welch.

TrueSpectra offered its solutions for network-based dynamic imaging, allowing images to be created once and leveraged across the supply chain from manufacturer, through to the distributor, retailer and customer.

The Zoom solution allows the web user to view image detail with razor-sharp clarity without downloading a plug-in, explained David Rees, senior director of business development. Furthermore, Zoom instantly adapts the zoom image size and quality to the available bandwidth, and supports all major image formats including JPEG, GIF, TIFF, PSD, PNG and Flashpix. Easy to deploy, its fully scalable solution handles high volumes of traffic and allows you to maintain control of your images, said Rees.

Another solution, the company's Active Layering, allows quick and cost-effective creation of true-to-life interactive online environments. Web users can interact with and personalise their experience, combining products and viewing them in the way that best pleases them. For example, a customer can mix and match apparel, from shirts and ties to skirts and blouses, and also view products in context, such as a watch on a wrist or an earring on an ear.

By Jordan K. Speer, senior associate editor of Bobbin.

For more information about next year's convention, which will be held 13-16 January, 2002 in New York, NY, contact the NRF at Tel: 202-783-7971; Fax: 202-737-2849; online: www.nrf.com.