In our last post we discussed the recent snafu made by Home Depot during a recent upgrade to its online website on February 1st where some incomplete planning and testing Left Home Depot Customers Running in Circles (which is terrible as there was no danger and there should have been no doubt*). Home Depot likely made the right business decision (despite the protests of some E-commerce folk) when it decided to start an upgrade at noon on a Wednesday, did the right thing when it put up a “Pardon Our Dust” notification page, but screwed up when it directed visitors to its blog that was filled with links back to the Home Depot e-Commerce site, which was offline and which resulted in users seeing a “Moved Permanently” page which redirected to the “Pardon Our Dust” page which, of course, redirected to the blog … in an endless circle of redirects. This was bad, but as explained in our last post, definitely not the end of Home Depot (online). In fact, it’s likely that it won’t even make a blip on their bottom line when all is said and done.
But this isn’t to say it has problems. In this blogger’s view, it has big problems, and they could be getting bigger by the day — and Home Depot probably isn’t even aware of them. What are these problems? Unsatisfied Customers! That’s right, every day it’s unsatisfied customer count is likely increasing, and it probably doesn’t even know it. How do I know? the doctor has been unsatisfied in his past 5 (five) visits and has been told each time, by at least one associate, including the manager, in the store, that they’ve been having this problem regularly lately and that there’s nothing they can do about it unless they send half a dozen e-mails and go through eight levels of approval. (Probably an exaggeration, but I’m sure the effort to try and fix the problem, which can only be done on a piecemeal basis, is not worth their pay-check or sanity.)
So why did I leave as an unsatisfied customer 5 (five) visits in a row and why am I sure that I am not alone? And why do I suspect it’s happening to thousands, if not tens of thousands (or more), of other customers across North America? Because of the (ultimate) source of the problem — a source that, I am told, is universal across every Home Depot location in North America. What is that source? It’s the supply management evil called ARS, and more specifically, it’s SARS. An unfortunate, but accurate, acronym.
So what does ARS stand for? Automated Replenishment System. And is it evil? Only when misapplied. And the mis-application in particular is Storefront Automated Replenishment System — SARS for short. And it is evil. Unchecked it is more devastating to your supply chain than a tsunami, earthquake, or other natural disaster that wipes out your primary supplier’s central manufacturing facility. There isn’t a single supply management solution that will create more of a disaster if misused than SARS. Every supply management solution from RFx through e-Auction to Decision Optimization, from e-Requisition to P2P, and inventory / warehouse management to distribution management can be misapplied and cost an organization millions of dollars in the wrong, untrained hands, but SARS doesn’t even need any hands at all to bring an organization to financial ruin! It does that all on its own. How?
First of all, we need to step back and define what ARS, or an Automated Replenishment System, is and why one has to be wary of such a technology. An automated order replenishment system is a system that tracks inventory levels in near-real time and automatically re-orders stock when a minimum threshold is reached or when, in a more advanced system, it detects that certain inventory is moving faster than expected. Based on the idea that one of the most costly events under a retailer’s control is a stock-out, which happens, on average, in 8% of products for a retailer without an ARS, the system attempts to prevent such stock-outs by detecting when a product is too low or moving too fast. It ties into the POS system and receiving system, downloads data at least daily, and calculates current inventory levels based on the last known amount, the amount received, and the amount sold, and if the inventory hit a threshold or dropped too fast, automatically sends a purchase order for more inventory to the supplier with a target delivery date. Now, a retailer, who carries thousands of products and who can’t keep an eye on every one in real time (without investing a lot of money in manpower who can make mistakes) will typically think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread the first time he hears of it, but what he doesn’t understand is that this system only works in a perfect world model, and there ain’t no livin’ in a perfect world. He can keep on dreamin’ that there is, but there ain’t. Why?
*Don’t get it? Too bad … but on the bright side, you feel just like a Home Depot customer who visited the site after 11:59 am on February 1st or how the doctor felt each of the last five times he visited his local Home Depot store!