Internet provides link between Wal-Mart, vendors

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. uses the Internet to provide detailed, store-by-store, product-by-product, day-by-day sales information to each of the thousands of companies that sell products to the company.

Known as Retail Link and found on the Wal-Mart home page (, the service was cited earlier this year by Computerworld and Smithsonian magazines as one of the top five innovations in business information technology.

“We often get recognized for being the first and doing it best,” says Dale Ingram, director of public relations for Wal-Mart.

The service is free to all Wal-Mart vendors, but each company must complete one of the two-day training classes ? which are held at Wal-Mart’s home office or regional sites around the country ? to learn how to use the software. Wal-Mart also provides continuing individual help to companies who have completed the course.

Retail Link was started in 1990 and operates with a program known as Decision Support System (DDS). The program allows participating vendors to retrieve, organize and interpret market information quickly. The information helps the vendors save time and expense in planning their production and distribution, which means they can offer their products to Wal-Mart at a lower price.

“There is no guesswork, no estimates,” Ingram says. “It’s been a key tool in the relationship between Wal-Mart and its vendors.”

DDS provides global access by translating into a variety of languages for buying offices and vendors in every foreign country where Wal-Mart operates.

The Clorox Co. saved more than $200,000 in sales during a Memorial Day weekend promotion in 1995 by using the information on Retail Link. The national accounts manager noticed that inventories of Kingsford charcoal were too low to supply the demand of the product’s second-largest selling period. The company was able to stock Wal-Mart stores before the holiday began.

“The Valspar Corp. of Minneapolis, Minn., who manufactures Wal-Mart’s own brand of House Beautiful paint, uses Retail Link to determine which colors and types of paint are most popular. As a result, the company can ensure that Wal-Mart stores always have the paints that are most in demand.

“Retail Link allows Wal-Mart to sell the appropriate products that customers demand and ultimately helps give us both a competitive edge,” says Valspar spokesman Tom Richardson.

For companies with products that are particularly sensitive to trends, such as sports trading cards, Retail Link can be especially useful.

ANCO/Treat, a manufacturer of sports and trading cards, supplies the cards to Sam’s Club stores. With the information from Retail Link, the company can determine which type of cards are selling best in each Sam’s store across the nation as the sports seasons change.

The companies that participate in the system attend annual regional meetings and receive a quarterly newsletter. Other group activities are announced through e-mail.