INDUSTRY BUSINESS OBJECTIVE SOLUTION THE BENEFITS The supermarket industry has a problem. It was effectively punishing its best customers, those with the biggest trolleys, by making them wait in long queues. “We wanted to provide a better service to our best customers. If you have a gold pass when flying, you go through a gold check-in, but normally, in a supermarket, if you have a full trolley you are treated less well than if you have a small basket and so can go through a express check-out.”
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While this still happens in many supermarkets up and down the country, Pak ’n Save Wellington Region wanted to find a solution. It found one in Mobico’s selfscan system, which is based on customers using handheld scanners to check off items, as they move through the supermarket, rather than waiting until they are at the check-out.
Although this might appear to be a money-saving idea at first, this was not what was behind the initiative, says Foodstuffs Wellington’s CIO, Egon Guttke, who oversees the system.
What it is really about is providing the stores’ best customers – those with the biggest baskets – with the kind of “gold-class service” that big users of airlines, for example, customarily enjoy. Only people with long shopping lists tend to use the service, says Guttke.
This didn’t make sense to Pak ’n Save Wellington, so, back in the late nineties, it installed the first iteration of what it calls its Shop ’n Go service. This entails customers picking up a handheld scanner at the supermarket’s door and then scanning their purchases as they proceed around the store.
This greatly speeds
the paying process at the till, as the items have already been stored in the point-of-sale (POS) system’s server, so the bill can be called up instantly at the till.
This means no more waiting; no unpacking and repacking, and no squished bananas, says Guttke.
The solution is really a virtual point of sale (POS) system able to store transactions ahead of the customer reaching the check-out, says Guttke. It uses the wireless network operating throughout each of the participating stores.
This means transactions can be called up instantly, he says.
Nor is fraud a problem, as there is a built-in checking mechanism. “We check at random to start with. If the check proves that I have been accurate (that is, the customer’s self totted-up bill is correct) then the likelihood of my being checked again decreases.”
Scanning mistakes register as beeps, as they do at the till.
However, the human error rate is very low, with those items that can’t be read by the handheld simply being placed in a green plastic bag by the customer, to be scanned later at the check-out, says Guttke.
The third-generation iteration of the Pak ’n Save self-check system features new handhelds, with a colour display and a more ergonomic design, adds Guttke.
“You could even play video on them.”
Guttke says it’s difficult to gauge precisely the effect of its self-check service as other marketing initiatives, such as smart marketing, have to be taken into account, and this tends to muddy the overall picture.
“But customers who use self-check grow their spending with us more than the average consumer,” he says. This is partly because the handhelds keep a running total for the user, so people aren’t afraid of overspending.
They can also be used for price inquiries, to, for instance, check the price of items in the freezer, where the prices for different products aren’t always clear, says Guttke.
The self-check system was originally piloted, in Wellington, in 1998. It has been so successful that Foodstuffs Wellington is presently on its third generation of the system, which now features much better handhelds.
The current handhelds are Motorola MC17 Retail Mobile Computers, tailored to Pak ’n Save customers’ needs, says Mobico’s Allan Moyle, who is responsible for both the implementation and maintenance of the systems. He says the durable terminals now feature much improved colour screens that display both the prices of items scanned in, and also come with the controls that allow users to add or remove items, should they change their minds.
The price data is then transmitted over a standards-based wireless network, to be stored as a pending transaction on the supermarket’s POS, waiting to be called up when the customer gets to the check-out, says Moyle.
Auckland-based Mobico provides mobile solutions aimed at solving every day business process problems.
It uses a combination of mobile and wireless technologies to achieve this.
An unexpected extra benefit for Pak ’n Save customers has resulted from the time-saving tweaks they themselves have applied to their use of the system.
Mobico’s general manager, Aldas Palubinskas, says customers who use the service have told him they have shaved about 30 minutes off each ‘large shop’, by bringing their own bags and boxes so they can pre-select products, separating then into heavy items, cleaning products and chilled goods, for example.
And, because they’ve already been scanned into the trolley, they can then be quickly moved straight in to the car-boot, which saves yet more time at home, as everything is already organised for a quick stow into fridge, freezer or pantry.
Being in control this way, and reducing the doublehandling, also has the benefit of keeping fragile fresh goods in better condition. “This is great for timepoor working parents and busy professionals,” says Palubinskas. “It’s also very green, as it cuts down on plastic bag use considerably.”
The Shop ’n Go system is in all 14 Pak ’n Save supermarkets across Foodstuffs Wellington, which actually covers the lower North Island, from Hawkes Bay to Ohakune to New Plymouth and, of course, Wellington itself.
Foodstuffs is a wholly Kiwi-owned group of cooperatives that dates back to 1922. One of the country’s biggest grocery distributors, it employs 30,000 staff. It is divided into three separate co-operatives that service the Wellington Region, Auckland and the South Island respectively. The company owns the Pak ’n Save, New World and Four Square grocery stores.
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The supermarket industry has a problem. It was effectively punishing its best customers, those with the biggest trolleys, by making them wait in long queues.
“We wanted to provide a better service to our best customers. If you have a gold pass when flying, you go through a gold check-in, but normally, in a supermarket, if you have a full trolley you are treated less well than if you have a small basket and so can go through a express check-out.”
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