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Internationally, the food industry was one of the first to study how it markets products from the manufacturer to the distributor to the shelf.

Brian Woolf, president, Retail Strategy Center, Greenville, S.C., said that among those companies that have done the best efficient consumer response work are two British grocery chains, Tesco and Marks & Spencer. ECR is a move to use information to streamline the process of delivering products to store shelves.

"The chains are using frequent shopping cards to build databases of their customers' performances and habits," said Mr. Woolf. "Then they invite their best customers in for special events."

Ms. Postoethwaite said with information on customers' habits, stores can determine if there are any connections between data.

"They might establish that people buy more beer on Thursdays than on Mondays," she said. "Those customers might also buy pretzels at the same time, so with that information stores can place pretzels next to


"Information driven marketing has the best payback of anything to come out of ECR," said Mr. Woolf. "It was hoped to achieve savings of some $30 billion. It allows you to differentiate your customers rather than average them out."

In Japan, 7-Eleven stores use category management at the store level. Store managers are empowered to create perfect ordering: breakfast snacks in the morning and lunch items later in the day.

Mr. Cox said 7-Eleven's continued replenishment effort of in-the-back-door-and-out-the-front in Japan may lead to the same operation in the U.S.

"7-Elevens have a two-way wireless signal from a central computer to

the point of sale," said Ms. Postoethwaite. "There is never a time when the price is different at the cashier than it is on the shelf."

In Italy, Danone dominates the ultrafresh market with its yogurt, fresh desserts and cheese mixed with fruit foods. Danone merchandises using Nielsen's software systems, using sales data to optimize shelf space.

Gaetano Giannetto, president of Nielsen's Solutions Systems in Milan, said Danone has invested heavily the past three years in the Italian market.

"It devised a merchandising structure called Space Allocation Team through four principal markets in Milan, Bologna, Rome and Naples," he said. "Using point-of-sale systems from Nielsen for collecting sales data and optimal use of shelf space, Danone has taken measures to optimize shelf space and eliminate references that aren't turning over."

Mr. Giannetto said information from scanned and internal data from sales orders is used and with retailers. "The company welcomes suggestions from retailers and has realized a 20% growth since its initial investment in these merchandising studies."

Oscar Agostini, director of marketing for GS Supermarkets in Milan, said scanner information allows GS to develop ways to use information. But Italy's competition and current relations between retailers and producers prevent the exchange of scanned sales information, he said.

"For now, scanned data are used by retailers internally for logistics."

But grocery chains aren't the only ones plugged into the future.

Scanned data, or electronic point-of-sale data, is used for marketing

and advertising in the U.K. Retailers sell data to manufacturers and scanned data to research agencies, which then sell customized versions to manufacturers.

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