Area Goodwill stores use donated Microsoft technology to keep popular merchandise on shelves

Goodwill increasing efficiency thanks to new software

With a new inventory and sales platform from Microsoft, the area's thrift stores can keep better track of inventory and what's trending.
Up Next
With a new inventory and sales platform from Microsoft, the area's thrift stores can keep better track of inventory and what's trending.

Managing Goodwill’s vast inventory of donated good is complicated.

Goodwill officials hope software donated by Microsoft makes it easier.

The technology, valued at $3 million, will allow Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region to develop modern reporting and analytics of real-time sales data for its stores. The goal is to see what’s selling and keep stores stocked with currently trending items.

Goodwill and Microsoft executives, including Goodwill’s vice president of retail Greg Medlyn, gathered at the Tacoma Goodwill store on 38th Street on Wednesday to brief news reporters on the software.

The store is decked out with a variety of stuffed Santas, Christmas trees and holiday ornaments, along with the usual furniture, clothing, books and household items. Workers sorted through bins in the back, looking for items for internet sales and brick-and mortar-boutiques as well as keeping an eye out for donated books. Posters on the wall suggested retail pricing for merchandise picked for the sales floor.

“We can quickly scan and identify books people are looking for across the entire country,” Medlyn said. “This is the boiler room of our business. This is the place that begins the process for us.”

With all the hands-on processing and sorting, though, stores can have a gap between what is on hand and what is in demand.

“What this group can’t see is what’s actually moving on the floor — what are people gravitating toward, what are they purchasing today,” Medlyn said.

With the emergence of the up-to-date analytics powered by the new software, “we’re going to use our labor better” to make sure what’s on the floor is what’s in demand, he said.

“So it might mean shifting more to kids (items). It might be women’s, linens, textiles. It might be homewares or electronics, but the closer we can get to that transaction, the better we can be positioned to make sure we’re working on the things customers are most interested in at a given time,” Medlyn said.

The stores also can watch how prices resonate with customers.

Medlyn contends the technology moves sales to a new level. The next phase will be to get it on managers’ mobile devices. It’s already on desktops at Goodwill stores. Reports are updated every 15 minutes.

“People may think thrift is not that hard. I’ve been in retail about 30 years ... this might be one of the most complicated businesses I’ve been a part of,” Medlyn said.

The new technology, he added, “is greatly appreciated.”

Revenue from Goodwill thrift stores goes to fund education, training and job-placement services for an estimated 7,000 unemployed people each year.

“This allows us to run our organization more efficiently and more productively, but ultimately we’re better serving our customers, and we’re better serving our donors to get the best value out of those goods,” said Lori Forte Harnick, president and CEO of Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region.

Debbie Cockrell has been with The News Tribune since 2009. She reports on business and development, local and regional issues.