RETAIL INFORMATION SYSTEM This invention relates to a system for retrieving and providing information relating to sales, using for example salesman handsets or other units to retrieve and display information. The commercial success of many retail businesses relies heavily on the manner in which stock is bought. Buying too much or too little of a particular line of goods can have serious consequences for the cash flow of a business. Clothing retail stores need to be especially careful when purchasing stock for retail.

Trends in fashion result in clothes having a shelf life, during which certain items are considered fashionable, and after which, these items become harder to sell. A further consideration when purchasing stock for retail is the storage space required to store unsold stock, both on the shop floor and in the store room. Ordering too much of a particular line of stock can result in the display space for other lines being wasted, which in turn may lead to a loss of potential sales. In order to increase the sales of surplus stock, a retailer may decide to sell the items in a’sale’.

This is when the retailer reduces the price of items on sale to below the original retail price. If it is necessary to sell the stock quickly, the retailer may reduce the price of an item to close to the item’s wholesale price. Therefore although the items may sell, the retailer cannot make any profit on these items. On the other hand, if the retailer decides not to increase the sale of surplus stock, after a time the retailer may be seen to be selling unfashionable stock-this can effect the retailers reputation.

Conversely, if a retailer is over cautious about the amount of stock he purchases and purchases too little, this can also effect a retailers profits. For example, running out of a particular line when there is still demand for such items results in the loss of a potential sale. This may frustrate customers who will be encouraged to look elsewhere for what they want. This may not only apply to a particular sale, but also affect future business since customers who can purchase items elsewhere may decide not return to the shop.

A further disadvantage of buying stock in smaller quantities is that this may increase the wholesale price per unit, of a particular line of stock. This will lead to a reduction of the profit margin of the retailer. Being able to predict the potential demand for retail items is therefore extremely important. Its importance in relation to purchasing stock has been discussed in the examples given above, however being able to predict potential demand is also important for making many other business decisions. The inventor has identified that simply assessing sales to predict the demand for retail items is not sufficient.

There is therefore a need for a means whereby retailers with more accurate and up-to-date information on information relating to sales and to further provide salesmen with means for gathering this information. According to the present invention there is provided a system as set out in the claims. The present invention will now be described by way of example with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which: figure 1 shows a schematic view of a system for processing retail data; and figure 2 shows schematically the structure of a portable terminal.

Figure 1 shows a system for processing retail data, with the principal aim of processing information relating to requests from shoppers. The system comprises a server unit 1. The server unit could be a conventional personal computer loaded with appropriate software for performing the functions described below. The server unit is connected to a data storage unit 2 to which it can store and from which it can retrieve stored information. The data storage unit is loaded with information on products for sale.

The data storage unit also stores information relating to requests from shoppers as described below. The server unit is also connected to a wireless base station unit 3. The wireless base station unit 3 can communicate by radio with a plurality of portable wireless sales terminals 4,5 etc. The communication unit provides an interface by which the server unit can transmit information to and receive information from any of the terminal units. The server unit is also connected to a plurality of point of sale terminals such as cash tills or the like.

Figure 2 shows one of the portable wireless terminals in more detail. The terminal of figure 2 comprises a processor 6 which is connected to a non-volatile memory 7, a wireless terminal unit 8, a display 9, a keypad 10, and a bar code reader 11. Non-volatile memory 7 stores software for execution by the processor 6. Processor 6 includes temporary memory for use in executing such software. The wireless interface unit 8 is capable of communicating by radio with the base station unit 3.

The processor 6 can thus communicate with the server unit by way of a radio link between terminal unit 8 and base station unit 3. Processor 6 can control the display 9 to display at least text information, and can receive input from keypad 10. The bar code reader 11 includes an optical sensor 12 and a bar code processing unit 13 for analysing input from the sensor as it is drawn by a user across a bar code and decoding it to determine the value encoded by the bar code. When the bar code reader is activated and detects a bar code it provides the value of that code to the processor 6.

The portable terminal also includes a rechargeable battery as power source, which can be recharged when the terminal is stored in a recharger stand 14. The base-station unit 3 and the wireless terminal units 8 of the portable terminals are arranged so that bi-directional radio communication can be carried out between the base-station unit and any of the terminals. Each terminal unit 8 may have a dedicated radio channel, or other means may be used so that each terminal ignores communications intended for another terminal.

Communication between each terminal and the base station is in the form of discrete digital messages. Each message specifies the identity of the transmitting unit and the identity of the unit intended to receive the message. The base-station unit 3 and the wireless terminal units 8 may be based on the Piccolink system available from Nordic ID. of Salo, Finland. The terminals are preferably of a sufficiently small size to be conveniently held and carried by hand. Figure 1 shows the information system installed in a retail shop including a showroom 20 and a store room 21.

Samples of product items that are available for sale are displayed in the showroom for shoppers to view. Close to each item (for example attached to the item or set into the front face of the shelf on which the item stands) is a ticket identifying the respective item. The ticket includes a bar code encoding the item’s product code, and optionally a brief description of the item. Packaged goods for sale to customers are stored in store room 21 to which shoppers do not have access.

When a shopper decides to make a purchase the required product is identified in the store room, from data supplied by the terminal, by the staff there and is brought to the point of sales terminals where the shopper can pay for it and collect it. This format of shop is typical of, for example, electrical goods retailers and shoe shops. The present invention is not limited to this format of shop and may be implemented in shops of other formats. In the example of figure 1, some of the terminals (shown at 4) are issued to staff in the showroom or shop floor who can carry the terminals with them as they consult with shoppers.

Some of the terminals (shown at 5) are issued to staff in the store room 21. Each of the products in the shop has a product code that is encoded as a bar code on its ticket. For each product code the data storage unit 2 can hold information in several categories, for example : price of the product features of the product; whether matching or complementary products are available ; optional features of the product, for example different available colours ; availability of the product in the store room 21 and/or elivery dates and arrangements for the product if it is not available from stock; location of the product in the stock room; special offers involving the product, for example promotions in which a shopper receives a gift with the product, or linked purchase offers in which a matching product is offered at a discount if bought together with the product itself ; price history of the product, indicating whether the product is being offered for sale at a reduced price; an indication of the level of discount that a salesman may allow on the product.

This data forms a product database. In a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the data storage unit 2 includes a shopper request database in which the information relating to customers’requests is stored. This is described in detail hereinafter. In use the salesroom information system of figure 1 is capable of providing salesmen with information on products so as to assist them in making sales, transferring information on sales around the shop so as to facilitate the process of making a sale, and gathering information on sales and enquiries for management use.

Each salesman carries a terminal 4 with him on the shop floor. The salesman may be issued with a personal terminal. Alternatively, a pool of terminals may be provided, and before using one of those terminals a salesman may enter his identification number into the terminal to identify himself to the system. The server 1 stores an indication of which salesman is currently associated with which terminal. When a salesman is assisting a customer, his terminal 4 can provide him with information on products in a number of forms.

In response to a customer requesting a particular item relating to an item on display, such as a request to try on an item in a particular size, a salesman indicates that he wishes to record the request by means of the keypad 10 of his terminal. The terminal may be in this mode by default. The processor 6 prepares to receive input from the bar code reader 11. The salesman swipes the sensor 12 over the barcode of the ticket of the item on display, and the processor receives the value of the item’s product code, which is encoded by the bar code.

The salesman may optionally add to this information, details specifically relating to the shoppers request-such as the requested colour or size. The processor 6 then causes a’shopper request’data message to be transmitted by wireless interface unit 8 to base station unit 3 and thence to server unit 1. The shopper request data message specifies the product code and indicates that a shopper has requested this item. In response, the server unit 1 stores on the shopper request data base an indication that this particular product has been requested.

In a preferred embodiment the time of the request will also be stored on the data base. This may be stored on the data base together with an indication of which salesman is dealing with the request. This may be determined from a terminal identification number which is included in the message, or by the salesman identification number, if a pool of terminals are being used by different salesmen. The server unit 1 may also retrieve the information for that product from the storage unit 2 and cause a product information response message to be transmitted by base station unit 3 to interface unit 8 and thence to processor 6.

This may be sent in response to a product information request message which may be sent together with the shopper request data message when an item is scanned. Further details relating to the product information request message may be found in our co pending application GB 9928702. 1. Processor 6 then stores that information and can display any or all of it to the salesman using display 9. By this means, when a shopper asks the salesman for information on a product the salesman can record the request by swiping the barcode of the product and adding any specific information relating to the requested item.

The salesman may additionally read any displayed information (using the keypad 10 to indicate to the processor which information is to be displayed) and provide the customer with the required information. That information may be some or all of the product information stored for the product. Initially only some of the information may be provided to the terminal, other information being provided on request. Alternatively all the available information may be provided initially.

The choice between these modes depends on the speed of the server and the available wireless bandwidth and the available processing and memory capacity of the terminals in a specific application. On receiving the information relating to the scanned product, the salesman can tell the customer the features of the product, the available colours of the product, whether there are any special offers relating to the product, the price of the product etc. The salesman may also receive the information indicating the amount of discount available, in which case he is immediately able to answer any requests from the shopper for discount.

Alternatively, the salesman may enter into the terminal a list of product features sought by a shopper. The factors could be limited by, for example, price, brand or technical requirements of the shopper. That list is transmitted to the server which scans the product database to determine which products best match the shopper’s specification. The server returns a message indicating the best matching products, which is displayed to the salesman as a list. The list may be sorted by the price of the products. The salesman may then request full product information for any of those products.

In scanning for best matching products the server preferably ignores items that are out of stock, so that the customer will not be disappointed if he selects a product from the list that is unavailable. A salesman may request the server to provide an indication of alternatives to a product that has been selected. This allows the salesman to attempt to satisfy a customer who requests an item that is out of stock. The server may select possible alternatives by determining the products that are in stock that best match the unavailable item.

Conveying this information to the shopper, allows the shopper to additionally request items that he or she was previously unaware of. For example, the shopper may request that they see the product in the colour blue. If the shopper requests to see an item similar to the one on display, but in another colour, the salesman may then reformulate and send a further shopper request data message using the product code from the previously scanned barcode of the item on display and adding information via the keypad to indicate the newly requested colour.

In response the server stores a record of the new request to the database, together with an indication that this item was suggested to the customer as an alternative. When the shopper has requested a product, the server 1 verifies from the product database that the requested product is in stock, in response to either the shopper request data message. In a preferred embodiment of the present invention, an indication of whether or not a requested product is in stock is stored on the shopper request database.

If it is determined that a requested product is not in stock, the server will also store in the shopper request database an indication that the item was not presented to the customer. Following a shopper request data message, the server 1 transmits a product request message (which identifies the product that has been requested, and indicates its location in the stock room) to a terminal 5 in the stock room. The user of that terminal goes to the indicated location, picks the requested product and takes it to an area where it may be collected by the salesman dealing with the request.

If necessary, the user of the terminal 5 can then transmits a requested product ready message (indicating the product) to the server 1 which can return a requested product ready message to the terminal 4 of the salesman who is dealing with the request so that he knows that the requested product is ready for collection. In one embodiment of the invention the server will, in response to the’requested product ready’message, store an indication on the shopper request database that the product was retrieved by a user of a terminal 5 who works in the stock room- hereinafter referred to as a puller.

The server may also store in the shopper request database an indication that the product was presented to the customer. During periods : when it is more efficient for the salesman to collect the product from the stock room himself, the salesman may indicate in the product request data message that a product should not be’pulled’from the stock room. In this embodiment of the invention the server will send the product request message to the terminal 4 of the salesman, indicating where the product is located in the stock room.

After the salesman has collected the product from the stock room he sends a product presented data message to the server. The server will then store in the shopper request database an indication that the product was presented to the shopper. However if the salesman is unable to retrieve the item, or if the shopper does not actually wish to see the item, the salesman sends a’product not presented’data message from the terminal 4 to the server 1. In response, the server will store an indication that the product was not presented to the shopper in the shopper request database.

If the customer wishes to purchase the item the salesman may convey this information to the server by sending an’item purchased’message to the server. The. server may then store in the shopper request database an indication that the previously requested item has been purchased. In an alternative embodiment of the present invention, the server stores an indication that the requested item has been purchased, on the shopper request database in response to an automated message sent from the point of sale when the payment transaction is processed.

In a further alternative embodiment of the present invention the salesman may indicate the identity of a customer to the server. This may be achieved by numbering each time salesman deals with a new customer. This information may be stored in the shopper request database, and allows multiple requests from one customer to be identified. A manager in his office 22 can also retrieve all the sales information using a personal computer 15 connected to the server. The computer 15 can be used o retrieve information from the data storage unit 2 to answer queries such as ‘what percentage of the number of requested items in a particular style were actually sold ; what percentage of the items presented to the customer were sold ; ‘what percentage of items that were presented as alternatives to the original requests were sold; what percentage of items were in stock at the time of request, and in which case what percentage of the items in stock and presented to the customer were sold ; what percentage of products out of stock were alternatives available for; what percentage of alternative items were tried on or sold ; ‘what percentage of the items presented to the customer were retrieved from the stock room by the sales person, and alternatively what percentage of items presented to the customer were retrieved by a stock person working in the stock room. Since the time of each request made in one embodiment of the invention be recorded on the shopper request database, an analysis of the frequency of requests relating to particular items may be achieved. This may be performed as a request analysis for a particular day, time, or employee. The computer 15 The computer 15 can also. be used to update the product database and the salesman database with new information, for example details of additional products, new special offers or revised salesman targets. The computer 15 may also be used to alter the price of products, or the discount that may be offered on them, in real time.

For example, if the manager determines that there is a need to sell more of a certain product he can reduce the price stored for the product and salesmen will immediately be able to offer the product at the reduced price. The prices may be altered from a remote terminal, e. g. at a head office, that is connected to the system. The system may initiate perpetual inventory stock control. A printer 17 is connected to the computer 15 to allow data to be printed out and new product tickets including bar codes to be printed for use on the shop floor. Whenever the identity of a product is to be indicated to the processor 6 it is preferred that the salesman can do so in any available way, for example y swiping the product’s bar code, entering the product’s code using the keypad or selecting the product using the keypad from a displayed list. Data is suitably entered into terminals 4,5 in fields displayed on the terminal’s display screen. Fields on the terminal are terminated by either reaching the end of the field ; or by hitting an key. Transactions are only routed to the back office application run by the server 1 when either the end of the final field on the screen has been reached, or the user presses in the last field on the screen. An escape key is provided on the keypad to enable the operator to return one step. A key is provided to enable the user to void whatever transaction they are in the middle of and return to a main menu screen.

Functions are actioned by pressing a hot-key relevant to the event (for instance, a key marked ‘A’may invoke Alternatives). Such an’A’key may also have”B”and”C”marked on it (as a standard telephone keypad) ; but each key only has one hot-key purpose (to avoid any confusion). The top line of the display is suitably a hardware based icon line. Then, there are 8 usable lines below this. It is assumed that an 8 line x 20 column display screen will be available on the terminal, and line 1 of the display area will be static. Lines 2-8 will allow scrolling of information where applicable. Line 8 will generally be the area where error messages are displayed.

If scrolling is applicable to the screen then an arrow tnocaiorwiii be displayed at the right-hand side of the icon line. Selection from a menu is suitably by using a arrow keys in the keypad to highlight the appropriate option and then pressing the key; or by using the appropriate hot-key. The cursor on the terminal is indicated by a blinking block (1 character; alternating between inverse and normal video) Upon switching on a terminal ; a salesman or sales assistant logs-on, to ensure that all auditable transactions (such as sales/returns) are associated with the correct assistant. An assistant can only log onto one terminal at once. The entered assistant ID is validated against the salesman database and if invalid an error appears on the terminal display.

For a valid log-on ; the terminal ID of the terminal logged-onto is be stored against the record for the salesman whose ID has been entered for the course of this”session”. The user is then be presented with a main menu. The main menu may provide options such as: Selling, Pull Stock, UnPull Stock, Exchange/Refund, Sales Floor Stock, Goods In/Out, Price/Style Enquiry, Faulty Stock Returns, Inter-Branch Transfer, Log Off. The operator can use the arrow keys to scroll through the options. After a period of inactivity of a set duration the terminal preferably logs off, terminating its connection to the base station. Data may be transmitted from each terminal to the base station by wireless means other than radio, for example optically.

The bar code reader of the terminal may be replace by another keyless means suitable for detecting product information, for example a scanner capable of optically detecting and machine reading a printed name of the product, or a magnetic sensor capable of reading a magnetic strip on the product or a ticket associated with the product. The present invention may include any feature or combination of features disclosed herein either implicitly or explicitly or any generalisation thereof irrespective of whether it relates to the presently claimed invention. In view of the foregoing description it will be evident to a person skilled in the art that various modifications may be made within the scope of the invention.

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