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Computers and Retail

Computers and Retail

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Computers are everywhere and are responsible for everything. All it takes is one little glitch and your business can be slowed, delayed, or even ruined. This was not the future that we were promised; we were promised a better life with computers making things easier for us (pause for laughter…)

When I worked in shoes, there was a computer on the desk (this was 1991), but most of the work we did, and the numbers that we needed, were found in a giant blue book filled with hundreds of pages of numbers; 5 digit numbers which we were to have practically memorized to know what shoe they, as well as what color.

When I worked at Target, 15 years later, we had hand-held machines which we used to locate items, print tags/mylars, get prices, see if things were in stock, etc, all of which made our job easier.

Fast forward to my current work situation. We have computers in the lab, the office, the pharmacy, as well as handheld computers which can do a variety of things, that is when they are working and when the information put into them is correct,

My company decided last November, that they were going to allow computers to do a lot of the work that we do, which would save time and energy and money and make things better for us. Sounds like a good idea, but then if it had been a good idea, I would not be writing about it.

We did not get a milk delivery one day, so I called up only to find out that the computer had cancelled our account and that a new company was taking over our deliveries. We were told to order milk and things would operate in the same manner. So I ordered milk as I always have and this is what happened:

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  1. The milk order was doubled, because once I had ordered it, the computer decided to order it as well. The computer was not going to order it until I did, which we did not know or anticipate, but we were subsequently told that we were supposed to know that.
  2. The milk order was heavy on items that I would never sell and light on things that I would surely sell out of, which was somehow our fault as well. It seems that the milk people had a lot of one thing on their hands and pushed it into stores without the chance of complaint or refusal.
  3. Any future orders must be done by the computer, that is if the computer decides to do the ordering of the items in which case we are to order and hope that we do not get a double unwanted order of milk we will eventually dump out.

Computers are supposed to make our day easier. And if you look at it, it is relatively simple.

  1. We sell something
  2. The computer says that we are out of it
  3. We confirm that we are out of it
  4. Items get ordered and delivered
  5. Repeat steps 1-4.

But unfortunately it’s not that simple. In order for everything to work as it should, you have to do the following or have the following done by someone:

  1. Every sale needs to be properly rung up, in order to register what is and what isn’t being sold. This can be messed up when an item is rung under a multiple quantity key or is hard keyed.
  2. Every item brought into the store must be scanned in, and must reflect what is on the invoices. This can be messed up when drivers bring what they want, or don’t get the invoice scanned in, or the boss scans it but doesn’t post it, thus making it the same as if the items had not been received into the store in the first place. This is how when daily inventory is done, the ‘on hands’ will represent a negative number, because according to the computer something was sold that we had no record of receiving.
  3. All items need to be in their proper place, so that when the outs are scanned, the computer can be told to order them. Items being in the wrong place, whether done by employee or vendor, can mess this up, whether the items are still sitting in the stock room waiting to be put out, regardless items having ever made it into the store in the first place. It sounds funny, but we had drivers handing over invoices with items that they knew that they didn’t have, to be scanned by individuals who didn’t bother to check if the items were delivered, which would explain why the ‘on hands’ said that we had 92 of something that we were obviously out of and then had to try and convince the product reps that we needed more of the product that we already had theoretically too much of.
  4. All of this matters only if the computers don’t suddenly crash or refuse to recognize a username or password or decide to reboot themselves or launch an update in the middle of using them.Computers are a necessary part of retail and can be a real asset when things are working properly and as intended. Otherwise computers and retail are:
Mehdi Kabab via Flickr

Cover image courtesy of Lucy Nieto via Flickr

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