Harte-Hanks bites off bigger chunk of retail CRM

Known primarily as a direct marketing specialist, Harte-Hanks is out with a new suite designed to expand its CRM offerings for retailers. Analysts say the market is ripe for growth.

CRM software vendor Harte-Hanks Inc. is introducing a new application package today aimed directly at retailers.

Allink Retail is billed as an end-to-end CRM system with a heavy focus on analytics, which San Antonio-based Harte-Hanks hopes will help it expand upon its direct marketing roots.

"The ability for retailers to communicate the right message to the right shopper in a timely fashion is growing quickly in importance as a differentiator," said Andrew Rutberg, senior vice president of business development and marketing at Harte-Hanks.

Rutberg said Harte-Hanks has been targeting retailers for several years with a data model tailored to meet their needs. He said that companies' drive to take advantage of multiple sales channels, including the Web, was part of the motivation behind launching a retail-specific CRM package.

Among the features of Allink Retail is a set of analytical tools designed to help retailers chart customer trends, including historical buying patterns and demographic trends. It will also include applications designed to boost customer loyalty, enable multi-channel marketing and bolster cross-selling opportunities.

According to Nate Root, business intelligence specialist at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., the retail industry is ripe with opportunity for analytical tools that allow companies to leverage the massive amounts of customer information they already possess.

"Retail is one of the sectors that stands to profit the most from data analysis," Root said. "These companies have so many sources of data and data points like point-of-sale, they should soon be able to track products and customers much more effectively."

Root said that many retailers already have databases full of customer information and product demographics that they haven't been able to tap efficiently because of a lack of properly designed analytical tools. The new vertical focus of vendors such as Harte-Hanks should help, he said.

One retailer known to be working hard on analytical CRM is Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Root said that Wal-Mart has largely kept its efforts under wraps, but its plans should serve as a model for the entire industry once they are made public.

Harte-Hanks has not yet released pricing information for Allink Retail, and it didn't name early customers of the new software. The company's other products have already attracted a number of retail customers, including Dell Computer Corp., Gap Inc. and Home Depot Inc.

Allink Retail will ship immediately.

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