Automated Gift Registry Boosts Chain's Sales

Belk optimizes its inventory with Web kiosks, while also making life easier for brides-to-be

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

October 4, 2001

2 Min Read

With a slumping economy exacerbated by last month's terrorist attacks, predicting sales and managing inventory have become a key concern for many retailers. One department-store chain has found a unique window into the future--and used it to increase sales.

Belk Inc. automated its wedding gift registry earlier this year and installed Web kiosks in most of its 210 department stores, located primarily in the Southeast. The company has since found that its move to make life easier for brides-to-be has the added benefit of forecasting sales of items such as crystal and bedding.

"It's going to enable us to optimize inventory much better. You get to see the demand line because brides register three to six months ahead of time," says Jay Carothers, president of E-commerce at the nation's largest privately owned department-store chain. Less than 10% of the Charlotte, N.C., company's business is bridal, he says, but it's a "huge chunk" of its china, crystal, and flatware sales. "That's the beginning of your customer, the 25-to 28-year-old, usually double income," he says. "It's the exact customer you want to start with."

Armed with a handheld scanner, brides have free rein throughout certain Belk departments--jewelry and apparel aren't covered. Because there's less paper involved, sales associates spend 30% less time on administrative duties. Both the bride and her gift givers can access her registry on the Web and order online or in the store. The number of wedding gift registries is up more than 16% from last year, and sales on registry items outside Belk's regional market have grown from nothing to 40% of Belk .com sales, Carothers says. He wouldn't disclose exact sales figures.

On the Web, Belk is selling to people it wouldn't normally reach; in stores, it's preventing items from going out of stock. "We now have the ability to move the correct goods to a store," Carothers says.

Belk's online registries run on Blue Martini Commerce and Blue Martini Service software. The software is priced at $250,000 per application.

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