Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Actually, They Hate You Too

by Tanta on 9/10/2008 08:24:00 AM

This headline in the WSJ caught my eye this morning. "Retailers Reprogram Workers In Efficiency Push." Do tell:

LANGHORNE, Pa. -- Retailers have a new tool to turn up the heat on their salespeople: computer programs that dictate which employees should work when, and for how long. . . .

AnnTaylor calls its system the Ann Taylor Labor Allocation System -- Atlas for short. It was developed by RedPrairie Corp., a retail-operations software firm based in Waukesha, Wisc. "We liken the system to an airplane dashboard with 100 different switches and levers and knobs," said AnnTaylor's Mr. Knaul. "When we launched that, we messed with five of them." Giving the system a nickname, Atlas, he said, "was important because it gave a personality to the system, so [employees] hate the system and not us."
But maybe Mr. Knaul should worry a bit more about what those other 95 switches and knobs do:
Mr. Knaul said the new system exceeded the company's targets for converting more browsers into buyers. He said that AnnTaylor hopes to refine the system, possibly with features that rank employees based on skills other than their sales proficiency, such as how well they operate cash registers.

Another option, Mr. Knaul added, was to begin using the system to more efficiently schedule managers.
I haven't been in an Ann Taylor store in several years. Last time I wandered into one, about 75% of the clothing was one of three shades of the same bright pink that every other retailer was loading up on, all slacks and trousers had the same super-low-rise waists that I don't wear, and anything I might have worn to work, like simple linen skirts or blouses, were dry-clean-only, which isn't my idea of what "business casual" dressing is all about. Either that, or the only sizes on the rack were fours or twelves. I didn't notice anyone having problems operating the cash registers, but then again I didn't get that far, given that if I want badly-fitting clothes in a ubiquitous color and style I can get them cheaper than Ann Taylor's prices. But I can certainly see why that chain needs aggressive salespeople to push the merchandise.