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Distribution System
Strategic alliances can often lead to much more efficient distribution systems. In the past, individual electronics wholesalers have seen each other as competitors, which led to cutthroat attitudes. Many of them dipped their toes into the e-business by creating a website and setting up e-mail, but then they were uncertain about where to go from there. The world of e-commerce is vast, and can be intimidating to a lone wholesale franchisee. Recently, however, many individual wholesalers have realized the power of banding together and pooling their distribution systems to leverage current technology. For example, an individual wholesaler may not be able to afford an expensive, fully-functional website that collects e-mail and buy preference data from customers, but a dozen wholesalers together can pool their promotional budgets and launch a large site which redirects regional customers to the appropriate wholesaler.

In this sort of collaborative effort, each distributor contributes money towards the development of a template used for a web-hosting and content service. Usually, the group votes on a panel of leaders. Obviously, trust is a key issue, since members must trust each other with shared business practices without fear of disclosing confidential company information. In order to use the multi-wholesaler site, customers must provide their contact information, including e-mail, to register. This provides the consortium with valuable marketing information that is use guided e-mail promotions to the site, which represents a huge cost saving over traditional direct mail campaigns.

Another important tool is the use of palm-top computers by outside salespeople, who have historically been very resistant to disclose client lists. Now, however, distributors are convincing the salespeople of the advantages of collecting client information on palm-tops, because the information is then downloaded by the distributor and used as a marketing tool to generate more business, thus creating more opportunity for salespeople to close sales. Salespeople have also come to appreciate the convenience of a hand-held computer and communications device: they can indicate when they wish to take calls and when they are meeting with a client and don't wish to be disturbed. They can also use palm-tops to sync into the distributors system, thus allowing instant answers on availability.

The palm-tops can also be tied into the distributor's bar-coding system, and thus can provide accurate inventory assessments at a glance. Adding infra-red scanning guns to the system takes much of the guesswork out of inventory systems, too, and eliminates the need for paper-shuffling. The distribution system works best as an integrated network. In order for infra-red scanning and bar-code tracking to work optimally, the warehouse must be designed efficiently. Old, over-stuffed sky-high shelves are out. Now, distributors place A-level products on nearby, easy-to-reach shelves, while at the end of each aisle is a bay door with a loading ramp.

Additionally, counter areas in warehouses have gone from being jam-packed with displays to more of a minimalist approach to product placement. The reason for this is that the customers--electricians--want to receive red-carpet treatment. They don't want to pick out their own product; they want to be waited on. They also want all of this done quickly, and an optimized warehouse tied together with infrared scanners, a bar-code system, and state-of-the-art distribution software fills that need efficiently..

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