Woolworths, The UK's leading general merchandise retailer, has made sure that customers could get their hands on "Big Red Book" catalogue items this Christmas by implementing in-store stock checking technology.

The success of the Woolworths Big Red Book previously meant that occasionally customers were disappointed when they got to the till point to find that their chosen item had sold out. Woolworths formulated a plan to address this by implementing company-wide stock checker solutions. It selected Episys as its systems integration partner.
Woolworths’ IT team built a shared service software solution to check availability of products both in-store and at its central fulfilment warehouses. It chose Episys to integrate this to colleague-operated mobile devices in all their stores and self-service “Stock Checker” units in 98 stores.
Episys managed both integration and installation. Thanks to the new service customers can confirm product availability either by asking a store colleague or by serving themselves at a stock checker or customer service kiosk.
Tony Godwin, Woolworths IT director, comments: “This solution was developed quickly and cost effectively in partnership with our team. Because common software is used across our devices, there is one version of the truth. This is a great example of Episys systems integration; they showed great ownership in getting the solution up and running.”
The colleague-service part of the project went live in October and took four weeks to implement, from concept to reality. There are now 2 000 mobile devices in use by staff. The self-service Stock Checkers took eight weeks, including site surveys, installation and training, with Episys co-ordinating a consortium of supplier partners.
Paul Seaton, Business Systems Manager at Woolworths, said, “Our colleagues find the mobile solution very easy to use and have been surprised at how many customers have approached them to ask about Big Red Book availability and how easy it is to answer. Episys showed a good understanding of both our platform and our processes.”
Peter Lewis, MD of Episys, adds: “Woolworths' decision to award the contract to Episys was based on our ability to programme manage all aspects of the solution (software, services, hardware and implementation) and our commitment to reach a successful outcome in any project we undertake.
"This was demonstrated by our Mobile Shelf Edge Labelling project in 2006, which Woolworths colleagues voted the most successful in-store development of the year. Stock Checker set the bar higher with more partners and a tighter deadline. So far the feedback’s even better.”
Woolworths wanted to provide customers with the facility to check product availability on the shop floor, and is exploring both colleague and self-service options. The solution needed to be in all stores for the key 2007 pre-Christmas period.
The company launched their ‘Big Red Book’ to showcase its extended multi-channel product offer. This has been such a success that at times they have found it hard to keep all the products available throughout the life of the catalogue. They did not want customers to have to queue at the till to find this out.
The beauty of the solution is that the same mobile device is used for the Stock Checker as for in-store mobile shelf edge labelling and other stock management tools (also provided by Episys).
Stock checking for customers is an extremely important project for Woolworths, who wanted a device that enabled customers to check product availability for themselves. Episys was chosen thanks to its innovative approach to complement the existing Woolworths infrastructure rather than replacing it.
Episys programme managed the entire implementation, including selecting the hardware for the devices (Devlin and NordicID), supplying and implementing the platform-management software in association with J Brands, integration of the hardware and software to the Stock Checker shared service developed in-house at Woolworths, and getting the store equipment up and running. Woolworths’ design required a larger LCD screen for the self-service Stock Checker, allowing for more information to be displayed, like an extended product description and details of store as well as to-order availability.
Woolworths was impressed by the Episys proposals. For example they found an innovative way to use the existing wireless technology for the new self-service Stock Checker.
Godwin says: “They understood what technology we had available, and designed a solution that has provided us with an economically-viable upgrade path. Episys understand our desire to provide the best customer service, while remaining ultra cost-conscious. The fact that the Stock Checkers are daisy-chained together lowers the cost of each device after the first one is installed in each store, making the solution scaleable. In our Edgware Road flagship store, three Stock Checkers are linked to a single radio connection, for example.”
So far the self-service Stock Checker has been rolled out to 98 stores, all with at least two devices. The project went live on schedule. Woolworths is very pleased with the early results. Within a fortnight self-service checks in the 98 stores had already overtaken colleague-service checks in the other 720. 1,800 shoppers served themselves within the first ten days and usage continues to grow rapidly.
Steve Lewis, MD: Retail & Distribution at Woolworths, and sponsor of the project, says: “The solution is amazing. The project has taken just eight weeks from start to finish. This is another example of Woolworths investing in customer service and delivering great results. ”
Andy Hicks, head of multi-channel retail, adds: “The Stock Checker provides us with an analysis into what customers are looking for and will help improve future Big Red Books and target our offer on-line. This gives a useful new perspective to help forecast demand and tune the range.”