TorStar delivery goes wireless

The Toronto Star Media Group installed a wireless mobile delivery system to eliminate paper forms that drivers previously used to track newspaper deliveries to stores and street boxes.

Robert Foster, manager of circulation business solutions with the Toronto Star Media Group (Toronto Star) said the newspaper publisher uses Intermec Technologies Corp.’s 760 mobile computer handhelds and a software front-end designed by Vaughan, Ont.-based 3G Touch Solutions so the newspaper delivery drivers can access and update delivery and return information while on the road.

This eliminates the old paper-based delivery sheets once used to track what is known in the industry as ‘single copy’ newspapers that a person can buy at newsstands, stores and street newspaper boxes. By eliminating paper-based sheets, the Toronto Star can more accurately analyze delivery data to improve sales of single copy newspapers, and do it in a timely manner.

With the paper-based solution, it could be days before a delivery person knew to increase or decrease the number of papers delivered to a specific location.

“The idea in the single copy business is to maximize sales and minimize returns,” Foster said. Returns are unsold newspapers the delivery people pick up as new newspapers are delivered. The mobile delivery system allows drivers to note not only how many papers were delivered but how many went unsold. This information is then sent back to the circulation department’s server over Rogers Communications Inc.’s wireless network where it can be examined by the circulation department.

If it finds a particular store, newsstand or box has too many returns, the next delivery run can be reduced to minimize returns. Conversely, if a store, newsstand or box is always running out of papers, the number of papers can be increased to make sure there is an adequate supply.

Mike Feder, chief technology officer with 3G Touch Solutions, said the software his company developed mirrors how the delivery teams do their jobs and how information needs to be accessed and input. Each morning, the teams get the locations (delivered to the Intermec 760 handheld systems) and order numbers of each drop-off location. At each location, the driver notes the number of newspapers dropped off and the number of returns and then moves on to the next location.

All this came about because Feder took time to see first-hand how newspapers are delivered. “I actually went out several times at two in the morning and delivered single copy papers and I got to know how (the delivery people) do their jobs,” Feder added. “We have to know what they needed to do their jobs and how they used the devices. From there we needed to know the business rules and what needed to be tracked and how the data is to be transmitted and received. We even brought in the drivers to give us feedback.”

Feder said the system worked very well and the Toronto Star has received a few unexpected benefits. “Previously, circulation did not know how many newspaper boxes they had or where they were located,” Feder said.

“Now they know where those boxes are as they now have addresses that can be tracked. So if (the Toronto Star) circulation finds that papers are not being delivered to a particular box, it could be that the box is out of order (and a new one has to be ordered).”

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