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The Web Still Has A Place

Though many consumer-goods companies are directing their IT efforts into infrastructure improvements, it would be a mistake to believe that Web efforts are going away anytime soon.
InformationWeek 500 - Consumer GoodsThough many consumer-goods companies are directing their IT efforts into infrastructure improvements, it would be a mistake to believe that Web efforts are going away anytime soon.

Though sales at Maytag Corp. in Newton, Iowa, were down 2% for the first half of this year from the same period last year, company executives remain sanguine about the economic outlook for their company and for the consumer-goods industry. Recently appointed CEO Ralph Hake says the economic downturn is moderating somewhat, and he predicts a modest increase of about 2% in sales over the next year. To get there, the company is expanding its line into Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears stores, as well as increasing prices on some appliances. Also, the company recently completed a $325 million purchase of Amana Appliances, a deal that's expected to generate another $900 million in annual sales.

That said, the company is continuing with existing online projects. VP of IT Randy Wadle is focused on supply-chain efforts that already are well under way. "We put a lot of emphasis on intranet, self-service, and seeking ways to increase the efficiency of the supply chain," he says. "This gives more information and capability to the sales force."

Together with key retailers, Maytag has devised a collaborative effort that gives consumers more options while helping sellers offer a wider selection of inventory. At stores, customers can go to kiosks and select products online, check inventory, and generate orders to be delivered either to customers' homes or to a store. This is an especially good investment at design centers, which typically have little floor space and limited inventory.

The technical approach varies from retailer to retailer. In some instances, Wadle says, the front end is nothing more than a link into Maytag's back-end systems; however, if a retailer's system isn't robust enough, the connection is accomplished using an extranet. "If it's a mom-and-pop operation, the extranet lets them have the same capability as the large retailers," Wadle says.

In the business-to-business market, Maytag is working with Service Magic, an online service provider that offers remodeling estimates and related information for general contractors, painters, and cleaning experts. Wadle considers it a natural extension for people who need help installing Maytag's products.

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