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REI's Passion for Data Analysis Runs as Deep as Their Love of the Outdoors

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: John Strother, director of inventory and logistics for Recreational Equipment Inc.

BACKGROUND: Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) is an outdoor retail co-op dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its more than 2 million active members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventures. REI operates retail stores nationwide, two online stores and an adventure travel company, REI Adventures.

PLATFORMS: SeaTab's PivotLink is a platform-independent Web-based service which has integrated seamlessly within REI's systems environment that includes JDA, WebSphere, SAS and E3. The ASP relationship is great - we pay our monthly fees and have unlimited access.

PROBLEM SOLVED: REI wanted to broaden the delivery of timely sales and performance data beyond the merchandising department to additional corporate staff (marketing, retail, finance) and all 70 retail stores, as well as deliver secure, segregated data externally to 150 strategic vendor partners and 50 critical vendor partners. Because of the licensing fees for each new user, our previous analysis software was not the most economical approach. Because we also didn't want to create a redundant environment, we decided to shift the money we were spending on the existing analysis system to a replacement product.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Users in all functional areas have been consistently enthusiastic, much preferring the new solution to the old REI data analysis systems. Immediately, PivotLink impacted our bottom line through cost savings. PivotLink slices and dices a variety of data types, how and when it's needed. With access to better information through PivotLink and other business factors, REI has successfully recognized in-stock improvements of 2 percent and margin improvements of 1.6 percent. Our quality assurance department, which uses PivotLink for returns analysis, was quick to recognize its benefits. REI's commitment to quality assurance was originally based on product safety issues associated with more dangerous outdoor activities. Over time, quality assurance has become part of REI's culture; therefore, we analyze the reasons for all product returns very seriously.

STRENGTHS: Data granularity is one of the real strengths of PivotLink. Because all of the data is retained at the lowest level, hierarchy conversions are a nonevent. In contrast to some of our legacy systems where we've spent hundreds of hours reloading summary data, we simply send a new hierarchy table to SeaTab and all of our data is reported in the new hierarchy the next week. The proprietary database is a huge advantage, as we don't have to buy additional database licenses or supporting software.

WEAKNESSES: PivotLink is set up to self-document. PivotLink provides the navigation, but the tool doesn't provide meaning to REI data without our customization. SeaTab provides the software mechanism, a Cuisinart to slice and dice the data, but REI needs to prepare its own recipe book. Ironically, this has proven to be advantageous because we are easily able to access information via customized reports that different departments need.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Frankly, we didn't do much alternative comparison. PivotLink's low cost and try-before-you-buy concept was very appealing. We gave them a sampling of our data on a Thursday and we had prototype screens available by the next Monday. Getting data that quickly gave us a great appreciation for the quality of their software and tools.

DELIVERABLES: Quick access to data from company down to SKU location allows any question to be easily answered. We can now see data in any relationship. Simply by adding an additional metric, we can see many relationships corresponding to that metric. It's difficult to believe how well this system performs with very granular data. Seeing is believing when big questions are answered in seconds.

VENDOR SUPPORT: PivotLink has offered us a refreshing combination of flexibility, ease of use and low cost. It is a rare example of software exceeding my expectations. The SeaTab folks have been wonderfully responsive and have made additions to the system very easy for us. Our IS team has been able to effectively work with them to deliver quick results.

DOCUMENTATION: Though documentation was in REI's hands, PivotLink offers a simple user interface that is easily customized across each department or functional group. This has been key to user acceptance and high usage rates, because we do not need IS to access our data anymore, and they can focus on other initiatives.

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