Holiday Survival Chain

According to a research study on holiday 2004 retail strategies, written by independent expert Annette McEvoy for the Packaged Facts division of, nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers want to receive monetary gifts during the holiday season, such as gift cards and gift certificates. In addition, the study, "Holiday Retail Strategies 2004: How Christmas Trends Will Affect the 2004 Season," shows that nearly 70 percent of shoppers would like to give those kinds of gifts as well.

The conclusion of the study is that non-traditional gift giving will be one strategy to pursue in the 2004 holiday season for retailers.

On a more traditional technology front, two very different retailers — Orvis and Vann's — are each looking ahead with advanced tools — in merchandising and analytics — to navigate the special demands of the upcoming holiday season.

Internet Holiday Sales

Vann's Inc., which started as a single Missoula, Montana, appliance store, got onto the Internet early and has hung on for the ride. "We've experienced the dot-com boom-and-bust," Mel Ewing, Vann's director of IT, reports, "But we were smart about it. We never leveraged our stability, we never went into debt to finance the Internet side of the company." For Vann's the approach has paid off. Ewing asserts, "2003 was our best holiday season ever online."

The Vann's strategy is about maximizing that online surge during the holidays. Based on last year's results, the company now sells more product on the Internet than through any of its brick-and-mortar stores.

With a successful Internet strategy in place, the company recognized the need for better forecasting and planning to manage that spike of activity during the holidays as well as the slower selling seasons. Now the company has put advanced merchandising technology in place from GERS Retail Systems to help achieve its goal.

"We've created an online Web portal for our managers to use to access information, such as sales by SKU or category," explains Ewing. "They can compare item performance. They can track marketing effectiveness, view sales history and view customer information. "In addition, we can mine the data to see which of our sales associates need more training in selling certain items or types of items."

Using the GERS database, which runs on an Oracle platform, associates can easily know which items are available online only, or in brick-and-mortar stores only, or in both channels — especially important during the holiday season with its heightened pace of shopping and sales activity. The system also includes a tool called Site Catalyst, which will help the retailer analyze Web sales during the holiday surge to extend that buying behavior into next year.

As the company plans for the upcoming holiday season it will use the system to focus on monitoring and responding to product trends in the market.

IT Decorating

Soon after Vermont outdoorsman Charles Orvis opened his first fly rod shop in 1856, the company began its march to becoming a true multichannel retailer, quickly expanding to mail-order sales. Today the Orvis Company, America's oldest continuously operating catalog company known for high-end fly-fishing and hunting items, also has 40 brick-and-mortar stores, a Web site and a worldwide network of 500 independent dealers.

The Orvis strategy for holiday 2004 was actually set out in 2003 as part of an overall plan that began with a focus on upgrading an antiquated POS system and reaching for true integration across all channels, including the online channel during the holiday spike. The company looked at a range of technologies, according to Mark Holmes, vice president of information services, as it searched for technology to fit its present needs and greater needs in the future.

In January 2004 Orvis deployed the Connected Retailer Store and Sales Analytics Solutions from NSB Group to help it navigate the seasonal demands of its business, including the demands of the upcoming holiday season. "We really felt NSB's deployment of the Microsoft architecture and .NET technology best lived up to the promise of total integration," says Holmes.

For the upcoming holiday season, Orvis will be selling its traditional and seasonal merchandise on updated systems that enhance and integrate its multiple retail technologies, greatly enhancing its ability to make the most of the holiday shopping season.

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