Office Depot Rolls Out Wireless Tracking System

Office depot is rolling out a wireless handheld computer system that allows customers to track deliveries on the Net in real-time.

Office depot is rolling out a wireless handheld computer system that allows customers to track deliveries on the Net in real-time. The move is designed to improve customer service and cut down on lost or disputed deliveries.

While FedEx, United Parcel Service of America and the U.S. Postal Service have long allowed consumers to track packages on the Internet, Office Depot is one of the first — and biggest — retailers to implement a wireless delivery tracking system.

The office supply chains Office Depot Signature Tracking and Reporting System (ODSTAR) is being rolled out in nine locations, and the company plans to have it operating in 20 markets by the end of the year, said Dennis Andruskiewicz, the companys senior vice president of distribution.

"This will ensure that our customers get the products they want, when they want them, and our drivers can resolve any customer issue more efficiently and accurately," Andruskiewicz said.

Office Depot, in Delray Beach, Fla., operates 820 office supply superstores in North America, sells more than $1 billion in products annually on the Internet and handles about 100,000 deliveries daily. Electronic signatures make it easier to reconcile disputed deliveries with signatures stored in a database, Andruskiewicz said.

The system should save Office Depot millions of dollars each year since it no longer has to write off deliveries that it cant easily prove it made.

In part because of its adoption of cutting-edge technologies, Office Depot is doing more than double the volume of its closest competitor online, said Andrew Bartels, research leader for e-business at Giga Information Group, a research firm.

"They started really early and theyve been working at this for a while," Bartels said. "Theyve had time to work out the kinks and bugs."

Office Depot launched its online operations in 1995 and previously had a very successful mail-order catalog business, which helped the company establish a strong infrastructure for its online business, Bartels said.

The wireless initiative is another way to meet the needs of its electronic commerce and other customers, said Lauren Garvey, company spokeswoman. It makes it easier for customers to pinpoint when to expect deliveries, she said.

On its trucks, Office Depot uses Symbol Technologies SPT 1700 Palm computers and wireless software by Aether Systems. The system allows Office Depots drivers to scan each item in a shipment as it is loaded onto a truck, automatically creating a document thats viewable on the companys Web site.

Once the driver inserts the handheld into the trucks docking station, data is sent over a wireless network to the main computer.

At delivery, the driver again scans the order and has the recipient sign for it electronically. The signature is then transmitted to the companys main computer system. The unit can also act as a miniature point-of-sale device for accepting payments.

"The Office Depot rollout is an example of the new empowered mobile work force, a global trend now emerging in retail and other industries," said Tomo Razmilovic, president and CEO of Symbol.