Service Merchandise - Showroom Ordering Process

Showroom Ordering Process

Service Merchandise was well known for its unusual ordering process which emphasized the catalog, even within the showrooms. Although there were other chains that used this model such as Brendle's, Best Products, and Sterling Jewelry & Distributing Company, they too eventually suffered the same fate. None were as successful as Service Merchandise.

The reason behind offering the catalog showroom approach to retailing was that it reduced the risk of merchandise theft (known in the industry as shrinkage) and also enabled customers to shop without the inconvenience of physically dragging their purchases throughout the store. The downside to this approach was that it required the customers to give their names, addresses, and phone numbers whenever an order was placed. The risk of identity theft made some customers wary of shopping in such stores, particularly when purchasing simple household items such as batteries.

For non-jewelry orders, customers would enter the showroom and be given a tablet which included an order form to record the catalog numbers of desired items. Items were displayed in working order in the showroom, allowing customers to test products as they shopped. Current Service Merchandise catalogs were placed in strategic locations throughout the store to allow customers to shop for items that were not on display. When ready to place their orders, customers would take the tablet to a clerk who would act as a cashier and submit the order to the store's stockroom (this process was altered in the late 1980s to allow customers to place their own orders with a self-service computer terminal named "Silent Sam", which later was renamed "Service Express"). The customer would then move to the "Merchandise Pickup Area" near the exit, where the order would emerge from the stockroom on a conveyor belt.

In addition to jewelry and catalog showroom display items, Service Merchandise also had several self-service items, which were located on shelves, and taken to the checkout to be paid for as in a traditional retail store. These items included many of those in the toy department as well as smaller, low priced items (such as batteries, film, and video cassettes).

The jewelry department, which was featured prominently in the center of every showroom, operated on a first-come, first-served system, in which each customer would be individually served by a jewelry clerk.

Also in the mid-1980s, Service Merchandise experimented with the installation of Drive-Thru windows at two showrooms (near Chicago and Nashville), allowing customers with phone-in orders to pick up their orders without leaving their automobiles. The concept was not expanded beyond its test stores, but remained in place at those locations.

In the mid 1990s, the tablets were replaced with barcoded pull tags placed on/near each item in the showroom. These were taken to the cashier instead of the tablet in order to purchase the item, which would still be retrieved from the stockroom. By the late-1990s, many of the showrooms had been converted to allow a more traditional approach to shopping in addition to the catalog ordering process. By 2000, all of the remaining showrooms had been downsized and the catalog-style shopping approach was officially abandoned.

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