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Ocean State Job Lot is on a tech journey that still puts people first
Customers love Ocean State Job Lot, and Ocean State Job Lot loves its customers. While it’s the Crazy Deals and opportunistic buys that bring customers in, it’s the experience that keeps them coming back. That philosophy has helped the discount retailer grow from its Rhode Island family-business roots to a powerhouse chain with 151 stores throughout the Northeast. Chief information officer Hisham Aharon has been with Ocean State Job Lot since there were 10 stores, and he told BOSS how the chain has maintained that experience as times and technology have changed.
Ocean State Job Lot enthusiasts know that “adventure shopping” is a way of life once you enter the store.
“You go in maybe for certain things, and you leave with probably 10 times more than you intended to,” Aharon said.
That adventure shopping is fueled by Crazy Deals, specially marked items that customers can buy and get a gift card for the retail value of the item.
“In other words, you buy a product for $100; you take the product, you give us the $100. Also, we give you a gift card with a value of $100,” he said.
It’s a win-win. Customers get their item essentially free, but they’re incentivized to come back for more adventure shopping. The Crazy Deals apply even to big-ticket items purchased online and picked up in store, such as $2,000 massage chairs.
This year is going to be a big one for closeouts, Aharon said, because retailers have excess inventory from 2022 that they’ll be unloading for pennies on the dollar. With those types of promotions as its differentiator, Ocean State Job Lot projects a lot of happy customers and a goal of $900 million in revenue in 2023.
Data to Drive Deals
You need strong technology to facilitate those Crazy Deals and to optimize inventory. Ocean State Job Lot recently overhauled its registers and piloted self-checkout. That enhances customer experience on the front end. On the back end, the chain is debuting a robotic arm to depalletize its distribution center and put products on a conveyor.
“If you have a distribution center that is very efficient, we can promote the product and say that we have it,” Aharon said. “It gets efficiently to the selling floor, and when the customer comes in, we have what they’re looking for.”
A new data warehouse powers analytics and data-driven business decisions that put up-to-date information in everyone’s hands. Store managers can now see what products are moving at other locations and analyze why they might not be going so fast at their location, then implement a quick solution.
Another big technological investment is the human capital management platform that went live in 2022. Ocean State Job Lot can track compensation, performance, wellness programs, and skill sets and employees can manage their own PTO.
“Employees are at the heart of decision-making when it comes to their own interests,” he said.
People at the Front
Those tech enhancements are always in service of people. The same platform that powers Crazy Deals also enables Ocean State Job Lots’ Buy-Give-Get program. Just like with Crazy Deals, shoppers purchase an item and get a gift card for the same amount. With Buy-Give-Get, though, they donate the item at the register. Through the program, Ocean State Job Lot has donated more than $25,000 coats, approximately $20m worth of winter coats over the last five or six years.
It's also raised millions of dollars for Ukraine and for COVID relief, and its Three Square Meals program has supplied equivalent to 104 million meals to local food pantries since 2013 to families struggling with food insecurity throughout the Northeast.
“We’re passionate about helping the community,” Aharon said. “That’s my favorite thing, our charitable operation is so vast.”
That people-centric attitude also plays an important role in change management. With so many fast-moving tech enhancements, employees might start to wonder if there’s a digitized replacement coming for their jobs.
The challenge is “getting through that the intent is not to replace people,” he said. “It’s to make everything more efficient. How do you convince them? How do you make that change more acceptable? Almost every change requires a lot of change management.”
Those change management skills Ocean State Job Lot’s people are developing will help immensely as the chain turns to more cloud-native solutions, including for its transportation management system, to fuel more growth and more stores.
“Today, we have one distribution center, which is in Rhode Island,” Aharon said. “Serving stores in the Philadelphia area, it’s a challenge.”
You have to go through New York City and its traffic to get there, so a second distribution center for stores outside of New England would ease the burden. The chain is also looking to convert its delivery fleet to EVs and investing in solar power and other green initiatives in stores. Buy online, pick up in store options will increase, as will e-commerce offerings.
“Everything we do going forward, we’re targeting cloud-native solutions,” he said.
As ever, it will be in service of a great customer and employee experience.
Ocean State Job Lot is the Northeast's largest, privately held, closeout retail chain with 151 stores in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; approximately 5,600 associates; and annual sales exceeding $800 million. Since our founding in 1977, we've been helping shoppers buy a lot more of the useful things they need for a lot less of their hard-earned money. We sell an ever-changing array of household goods, apparel, pet supplies, kitchen pantry staples, and seasonal products (such as holiday, gardening, and pool supply) at a fraction of their typical price. Ocean State Job Lot is committed to being a progressive company where we put people first. We value our diverse team of associates and continually seek opportunities to strengthen the communities we serve. We promote a positive work-life balance, offering many resources to help our associates with all aspects of their well-being. We also offer a flexible workplace that offers many hybrid roles throughout our corporate departments. The Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation has a long history of philanthropic leadership, placing emphasis on assisting people in need, including children, veterans and military, those who are homeless, and those struggling with food insecurity; aiding animal rescues, shelters and welfare organizations; and providing support for healthcare programs and services.
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
Phone Number: 401 295 2672
Homepage Link: https://www.oceanstatejoblot.com