Multichannel marketing is hot these days, but few systems vendors make the required commitment to enable retail, Internet, and catalog sales equally. Apropos, rooted in the retail systems field, is an exception to this trend. Its new Ascent system is a true contender for catalog order processing as well.
Among the five current users of Ascent are The Fort (catalog, Web, and retail), Divers Direct (all three channels), Cutter & Buck (retail and Web), and bebe (retail and Web).
Apropos assumes full responsibility for data conversion, system implementation, and ongoing technical support. It’s not an application for start-ups — a minimum configuration for this Informix-based, two-tier, client/server solution costs around $50,000, and the price varies between $1,000 and $2,000 per user for Informix licenses.
Ascent’s retail perspective is slight. If my comments seem to focus on negatives, they merely indicate functions that some direct commerce companies might consider desirable that are not yet available.
Products are set up in a four-level hierarchy that provides full support for a size/color matrix and for four price categories as well as contract pricing. Discounts can be assigned by quantity breaks, customer types, source code, and catalog code.
Item searches are by SKU number, name, or any word in the description, although not by keywords or product type. There are no standard fields for item dimensions, weight, or shipping restrictions, but there are four user-definable fields. Ascent supports an unlimited number of warehouses, but not more than one primary location.
Customers and orders
Order entry and customer service screens and their navigation are user-configurable. One excellent feature is Ascent’s attribution of source code and ship-to address by line item.
Ascent lets users force a back-order so that a single order for a large quantity of an item can ship from a backorder replenishment instead of depleting stock on hand. Backorders get FTC 30-day and 60-day notices, quite literally.
You can assign notes to line items, to the order, or to the customer. However, a line-item note is the only way to handle personalization. Customer notes are displayed in reverse chronological order.
Ascent’s relatively sophisticated credit card fraud algorithm outstrips its simple credit card processing features. The system, which interfaces to Verisign, does not support batch transmissions, although it does support actual shipping charges and open account billing.
Ascent handles single-order picking, without any methods for consolidated, wave, or zone management. Packing slips list items in warehouse order, but there are no codes available for package inserts.
An interface to Tracer, UPS Worldship, or Neopost manages shipping rates, including best-way shipping. No support is provided for continuity shipping, and no real support for drop shipping, either.
Returns processing, including return material authorizations, is reasonably robust, but cannot cope well with mis-shipments. Ascent won’t let you “return” something it doesn’t know you ever shipped.
The customer file tracks purchase history, RFM, and demographics, but there is no real support for customer segmentation. While the system has very strong accounting functions, its direct commerce reporting is relatively weak. Here again, there are some diamonds in the rough, such as merchandise forecasting reports.
All in all, if you are looking for a true multichannel platform, Ascent deserves your careful consideration.
Ernie Schell is President of Marketing Systems Analysis, Inc. and author of The Guide to Catalog Management Software. He can be reached at (215) 396-0660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apropos Retail Management Systems Inc.
3400 188th St. N.W., Suite 185
Lynnwood, WA 98037
Kent McNall, President