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4/26/2005
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CSK Auto Replaces Paper Forms With Digital Data

Auto-parts retailer replaces paper forms with a system that scans bar codes and uses digital photos to provide proof of delivery.

CSK Auto Corp. is reaping the benefits of a new proof-of-delivery system it deployed last year to help the $1.6 billion automotive-parts retailer boost its performance. The company also has under way a couple of IT pilots that Larry Buresh, senior VP and CIO, says could help the company further trim costs and improve service by making it easier for customers to find the parts they need.

CSK Auto owns more than 1,100 retail outlets in 22 states that operate under the names Checker Auto Parts, Schuck's Auto Supply, and Kragen Auto Parts stores, as well as a wholesale business. Last year, CSK Auto, which carries nearly 20,000 automotive products, was printing hundreds of thousands of multipart forms as drivers delivered auto parts to their wholesale customers. The forms needed to be stored at several locations and sometimes would get misplaced, resulting in costly overhead.

To solve the problem, the company developed and deployed a proof-of-delivery application that runs on an HHP Dolphin 2D handheld computer, which includes an integrated digital camera. When a driver completes a delivery, the receipt information is electronically captured from a bar code, and the driver takes a digital snapshot of the signature at the time of delivery. When drivers return to their offices and dock the handheld units, the data is transmitted to a store server. Customers can view delivery information on CSK Auto's secure Web site.

CSK Auto invested about $1 million into the proof-of-delivery system, but expects big returns as it was spending about $500,000 annually on the paper-based system. "One of the interesting and unexpected benefits of the system is that the accounts-payable departments at our larger companies now pay us more quickly" because the information is more readily available to them, Buresh says.

In its retail stores, CSK is piloting two initiatives that Buresh hopes will improve customer service, boost sales, and cut down on the use of paper catalogs. CSK stores use more than 60 catalogs to find and describe the parts they sell. "They're often out of date by the time the store gets them. And they often get ripped or lost," Buresh says.

As a result, CSK Auto is piloting a full-sized electronic kiosk that's linked to the company's inventory. Customers who need windshield-wiper blades, for instance, can input information about their vehicles, and the kiosk will guide them to the exact location where the part they need sits on the store shelf.

"Customers can build entire shopping lists and even better manage special orders," Buresh says. So far, CSK Auto has deployed about 12 of the kiosks.

CSK is also piloting the placement of "mini-browser" display units within the isles of about 10 stores. The units contain information about the products in a particular isle, and they're powered by an Ethernet connection linked to the store's inventory system. "Customers can quickly find the parts and accessories they need," Buresh says, and be reminded of other products they may need, such as a new oil filter if they're purchasing oil. When the units aren't being used by customers, they can display advertisements.

CSK Auto plans to install the units in 100 stores this year as part of the pilot. "We need to establish a clear return on investment," Buresh says. "These units aren't inexpensive, and we don't roll anything out unless we can prove an ROI."

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