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TECH INNOVATOR: All the right answers

With a customer base of 1,200 users across 65 retail banners, ACNielsen's Category Business Planner (CBP) is no lightweight when it comes to retail technology. And it's just one of the applications offered by the world's largest marketing information company.

Launched in May 2001, the CBP application simplifies the practice of category management by enabling efficient and flexible access to ACNielsen's patented RDH -- or Retailer-endorsed Definition of the Hierarchy -- process, which gives users a wealth of information as the user defines it. RDH also provides the user with the ability to compare its performance with that of the in-market competition, using the same geography and product definitions.

Minneapolis-based Supervalu, one of CBP's earliest users, has experienced dramatic improvements in the efficiency of its category management efforts. "We have cut the time spent on internal category management processes by 50 percent to 75 percent, using the application," says Mike Terpkosh, director of category management and retail pricing. "This means we can do more in the stores."

Terpkosh can wield the tool from a store PC, which he says is a real plus, and so can his retail customers. Accessible from any Internet connection via the ACNielsen Answers portal, CBP allows retailers to quickly assess their performance against the operators with which they compete.

"ACNielsen Answers is a Web portal that provides our clients with access to ACNielsen information," says Dave Suwanski, director of retail marketing at ACNielsen U.S. "Its content includes general news headlines, to value-added applications that ACNielsen has developed for use over the Web. It provides powerful and flexible reporting of relevant category management insights -- from the retailer's point of view."

Focused reporting in CBP provides fast answers to top-line questions, and also offers drill-down flexibility for more in-depth analysis. With high-level "scorecards" and issue-driven reports, CBP presents both snapshots and detailed perspectives on overall sales, market share, distribution, pricing, and promotion information.

As they gain access over the Internet, retailers can peruse category management information customized to their own needs -- by category, channel, time period, or market -- and can compare their performance with that of the competition.

"With CBP, retailers can understand what's happening, and why it's happening, within a category and geography, delivered over the Web to each user's desktop," says Suwanski. "They can also share this very same information with their manufacturer partners to help in the category planning and review process."

Since its launch, the CBP application has gone through 10 major revisions that have addressed and incorporated a wide variety of user feedback, the most important of which was the introduction of baselines, according to Suwanski.

"In January 2004 we released an upgrade to CBP, based on feedback we received after two and a half years in the market. Baselines help retailers and manufacturers better understand the impact of pricing, distribution, and in-store trade promotion tactics on volume, by enabling users to drill down on the facts," explains Suwanski.

The release this year incorporated a number of new features and content. Some of the new features include:

-A faster application with greater flexibility, enabling users to reselect report parameters right from within the report they're viewing.

-An integrated search utility that allows the user to sift through pages of output.

-An enhanced user interface that manifests itself in graphical rep- resentation of the relevant insights and professional, presentation-ready output.

-Insights delivered in an issue-based format, making it easier to get to the information the user needs.

Added content includes:

-Reporting on Wal-Mart in the retailer's endorsed hierarchy, and leveraging ACNielsen's industry-leading Wal-Mart Channel service.

-The ability to look across comparative channels.

-A cross-market scorecard for retailers with multiple geographies.

-Enhanced analytics with the inclusion of metrics like price, distribution, and promotion, throughout the application.
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