Technology as Equalizer

by RaeAnne Marsh

Retail_analytics

Mega-retailers maintain websites with information on their extensive inventory, and keep that information up to date with new products and changes in product pricing and availability. It’s a data base that smaller retailers, even with a more limited or niche-focused inventory, do not generally have the manpower to create and maintain. Brother and sister entrepreneurs James Kane Jr. and Jennie Gilbert founded Retailer Web Services to help even that playing field.

Creating spiders to gather product information, RWS’s data team also develops categorization schemes for the data, normalizes it for uniformity and stores it. It’s all the information consumers demand, but cost makes developing their own data base a high barrier of entry for individual mom-and-pop retailers. RWS sells access to its data base, and the client can customize to its own specific products, for instance handling Whirlpool products only. “We repeat that with each layer,” Gilbert says. This includes a mobile site and enabling clients to automate pricing, see what others are pricing, run promotions and automatically send marketing emails.

Founded in 2006 serving only appliance retailers, Scottsdale-based RWS mostly stays with durable goods but has expanded to furniture and mattresses. “We gradually add ancillary products as we see what products overlap,” Gilbert explains, noting RWS categories now also include decorative plumbing and hardware, and lawn and garden.

“Retailers seem to fear technology. They’re afraid customers will be in their store and use their smartphone to compare with other sources. But that could happen anywhere — including a competitor’s store — and also happen in reverse,” says Gilbert, relating she enjoys helping clients shift their perspective to see that technology can work for them. “It’s so much more exciting to do business from a place of opportunity rather than responding to threats.”

 

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