Font Size

- Aa +

Tue 10 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Fast lane

NCR Corporation has ambitious queue-busting plans to provide more customer convenience.

NCR Corporation has ambitious plans for its queue-busting solutions in the Middle East. Retail News investigates how it is fuelling the self-service phenomenon.

At its fifth annual Self-Service Universe Executive Conference in Budapest last month, global technology company NCR Corporation showcased the world's first self-service returns solution.

The solution permits retailers to provide more queue-busting convenience to their customers during the often time-consuming merchandise return process, and it is the firm's latest feat in a string of groundbreaking developments for the retail sector.

"The ease of returning products is a significant factor in a consumer's purchasing decision. Our research finds that over half of consumers would prefer to shop at stores that offer a self-service solution to help speed returns," comments Mike Webster, vice president of strategy and communications, NCR.

"The first solution of its kind, NCR FastLane Self-Return provides retailers with a new vehicle for enhancing the consumer experience and building customer loyalty, while also improving staffing and operational efficiencies.

Shoppers can return goods for a refund on their own by first scanning the items and entering relevant product information, then a store associate inspects the items and approves the return. A reimbursement is then issued in the manner the item was originally purchased, whether cash or debit, credit or gift card.

The need to ramp up customer loyalty, improve employee service levels, optimise revenue growth, and drive up productivity in the industry has accelerated NCR's position as a business and the self-service phenomenon, according to Stelios Fragkos, vice president, Middle East, Africa and East Mediterranean Region, NCR.

"We recently celebrated our 70th year in Egypt, and we established our presence in most of the GCC states in the 50s and early 60s. In the early days, we had a strong presence with cash registers and mainframe computers, but we later applied a Jack Welsh strategy to stay only with solutions that were number one or two worldwide.

"We have a strong presence in top-tier accounts in the retail industry, primarily with POS devices, and we have some instances of self-service kiosks in Saudi Arabia.

The company is "capturing only the tip of the iceberg in the Middle East," he admits, and it will move its focus from its "comfort zone" the financial sector in the GCC, in which it holds 70% market share, and "now start addressing all vertical markets in an intense manner, as consumers in the region are interested in self-service.

In stark comparison to the mature markets of the US and Western Europe, where FastLane is the dominant solution, Middle East retailers secure labour "relatively cheap, so as a result of that the business need is not compelling.

"These solutions offer 24-hour servicing, convenience, privacy, faster and more convenient business, which are high on the agenda for CEOs keen to improve service quality.

In the Middle East we have 20 direct branches, one of the highest figure per region worldwide, which is a big advantage," he says.

Considerations for this market, where some "major chains" have already shown interest, include interfaces amenable to multiple nationalities and languages to serve expatriates and local consumers, currency certification for machines, and appropriate training for engineers to service the machines.

Pilot projects are in full swing in South Africa, and "we will secure the first deal soon in Saudi Arabia, where retailers have bigger volumes and bigger challenges. All of the GCC states are on our immediate target list for checkout and self-service solutions.

The FastLane Version 5 has been released for supermarkets and hypermarkets in Saudi Arabia and South Africa, he reveals, while other GCC markets are assessed and its POS products are "continuously refreshed.

When asked about the significance of loyalty cards in the region, he responds: "The first generation of self-service solutions dealt with consumers in an anonymous way, now one-to-one marketing is crucial or a distance will be created between shoppers and the business, so they facilitate this correspondence.

Fast facts: NCRJohn H. Patterson founded the National Cash Register Company, maker of the first mechanical cash registers, to develop and support POS solutions in 1884, and has since grown to become the leader in retail store innovation.

NCR Corporation established its Middle East and Africa operations from its Cyprus headquarters in 1981. The company employed 13,200 people worldwide at the end of last year.

Ohio-headquartered NCR's assisted and self-service solutions and comprehensive support services respond to the needs of retail, financial, travel, healthcare, hospitality, gaming and public sector organisations in more than 100 countries.

As part of its Retail Store Automation offering, the company offers self-service solutions, POS and assisted services, software, consulting and services.

NCR had approximately US$2.7 billion in revenues from self-service solutions in 2007.

The company estimates that approximately 600,000 NCR self-service touch points handle more than 23 billion consumer transactions annually.

Currently number one globally in retail self-checkout, and number two in retail point-of-sale terminals, its Automatic Identification & Data Collection (AIDC) Solutions Group specialises in the full spectrum of technologies including bar code scanning, biometrics, voice recognition, WI-Fi and cellular phones.

Sponsored by NCR, the Self-Service Universe conference, attended by Retail News Middle East, draws executives from multiple industries to exchange ideas on integrating self-service to develop stronger relationships with customers while lowering costs and gaining competitive advantage.

Powered by its ranking as the market share leader in self-checkout, the company has expanded the functionality and flexibility of its kiosks, featuring enhanced design and added features.

The NCR FastLane enables shoppers to scan, bag and buy their items, regardless of order size. The customer-friendly interface is designed to bolster productivity and minimise intervention, enabling retailers to enhance customer service, and optimise labour efficiencies.

The company estimates that 2.5 billion consumer transactions were performed via NCR FastLane self-checkout in 2007, with strong transaction growth expected for 2008.

The compact design of the next-generation FastLane 5 allows the device to be deployed beyond high-volume retail and grocery environments into other formats such as department stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies.

Cash inputs and outputs are arranged side by side to allow for user-friendly payment transactions, while ‘follow-me' lighting blinks at various points on the device to guide consumers through each step of the checkout process.

In addition, NCR FastLane is now equipped with the NCR RealScan 78OFX bi-optic scanners. The solution's newly enhanced design also provides operational efficiencies for retailers, and supports standard integrated coin recycling, as well as the option for integrated bill recycling.

Recycling allows the cash and coins consumers insert during a purchase to later be issued as change. This function enables retailers to invest fewer resources in cash management and requires less currency at the beginning of daily operation.

The company has conveyed its commitment to ‘green' retailing, and two-sided thermal printing is now a standard feature in each unit to reduce paper consumption by up to 40% and result in less energy being consumed, and reductions in waste disposal, air emissions and wastewater.

Bill Nuti, chairman and CEO of NCR revealed results of the 2008 NCR Self-Service Consumer survey during its recent conference.

Conducted by BuzzBack Market Research, research found that 67% of consumers across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK are more likely to do business with a company that offers the flexibility to interact using self-service, whether via the Internet, on a mobile device or at a kiosk or ATM.

In addition, 58% of the survey respondents said the availability of self-service technologies created a more positive perception of the brand.

"The pressure is mounting on organisations to finally develop a multi-channel strategy that leverages self-service at the point-of-service, online and mobile channels," Nuti said.

Respondents identified speed and ease of use as the main pull factors when asked why they would opt for self-service over personal assistance.

"The bottom line is that we are truly at an inflection point. Technology innovation, coupled with changes in consumer behaviour, is forcing businesses to adapt to a consumer who is changing the way they connect, interact and transact with your business," says Nuti.

"The self-service revolution is real because consumers see how they personally gain from it. Self-service is convenient and efficient, gives them time back and puts them in control, all of which are highly valued.

Consumers require anytime, anywhere convenience. They have gotten a taste of what is possible and they want more. In fact, they are demanding it," he adds.

Since Nuti joined NCR in 2005, the company's stock has appreciated more than 50%, and during 2007 ATM revenues grew 15% while self-service revenues in other industries grew at a combined 20%.

Previously, he served as president and CEO of Symbol Technologies where he positioned the company as the leading supplier in the RFID industry.

With such an outstanding boss at the helm, NCR is now set to join forces with Cisco to implement digital media solutions for retailers across the Middle East, it was announced at the recent conference.

NCR will deliver consultancy, integration, deployment and ongoing services support for Cisco's digital signage and desktop video solutions, which could boost sales within impulse categories, encourage brand switching and promote new or seasonal products and price reduction events.

Individual stores will have access to the Digital Media Manager software over the web, providing them with the autonomy to adapt playlists to suit local trading environments.

For example, umbrellas could be promoted when it is raining, or alerts would be sent out about special offers on the fresh fish and deli counters to reduce overstocks.

Transforming the business model: ASDA answerRanked as the second highest supermarket chain in terms of market share, Asda has rolled out "the fastest and most aggressive programme" of 1670 self-service tills in the UK, where it has 170,000 employees across 340 stores.

Neil Applebee, head of process improvement - non trading, Asda Stores Ltd, UK, told Retail News, "to facilitate constantly low prices, we needed a business model to ensure we operated for less, and self-scan tills fitted naturally into our strategy.

However, he admitted that after introducing the technology to 200 stores within seven months, the move was met by adversity among its staff as "we went too fast, failed to acknowledge that this level of change had been unprecedented, and engage our store management teams.

Last year the company carried out a complete review to consolidate its stance, and its focus on education for its workforce and consumers has witnessed it almost hit its targets.

"We had to work hard on our communication stance, and in 2007 we embarked on a much more controlled programme to expand our self-service units within stores.

The retailer now operates self-service tills in 96% of its stores, which are used by 20% of customers with average basket sizes of 5.4 items, which it aims to increase to 40 items.

Its smallest store in the town of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, boasts that 31% of shoppers use its self-service units. Last month the company encouraged its Host in Front approach at self-service units, to improve customer interaction levels at the self-service POS.

Asda's plans include driving the average basket capacity higher and "exploring how self-service will work in an environment where we will sell clothing and general merchandise.

Asda Living, its non-food chain, will open 200 stores in the UK within the next five years.

The CV: Neil Applebee

With 12 years of experience in the industry, he joined Asda in 2002 as regional commercial manager, for 137 stores, and later advanced to Retail and Distribution Accounts Manager.

According to Thomas Wyatt, general manager of the Digital Media Systems Business Unit, Cisco, "NCR's in-depth industry expertise will help retailers through the complete digital media deployment process.

Specifically for digital signage, NCR can support retailers measuring the business benefits, deciding on the optimal placement of the signs, integrating them with store networks and helping to ensure that the screens are always on with no downtime.

To take advantage of the Digital Media Manager, retailers can manage content from a variety of sources including their own marketing communications departments and third party advertisers. This can include live and on-demand video, flash animations, text tickers and web content.

The retail industry's key players can also capitalise on the possibility to schedule instant and future content playback, or to create content play lists directed at groups of displays in different parts of the store featuring product promotions relevant to audiences shopping at breakfast, lunchtime or after work.

"The plummeting prices of LCD and plasma displays, coupled with the proliferation of broadband connectivity, have ushered in the era of digital merchandising in retail," says Enzo Tumminaro, Retail Service sales director for NCR's Global Network Services, EMEA.

Retail automation products include NCR RealPOS workstations and peripherals, stationary bar code scanning solution RealScan, the Easypoint Xpress Payment kiosk, and RealPrice Electronic Shelf Labels, which provide return on investment by eliminating paper label costs and time delays brought with price changes.

The company's latest solutions have been developed to help retailers achieve added value from self-checkout installations by extending the convenience and reduce waiting time to other parts of the store.

NCR FastLane Order and Pay addresses a variety of self-service opportunities, including at delicatessens, bakery sections and food service operations. The touch screen presents shoppers with a pre-set menu appropriate to its location in the store.

"With this solution, retailers can leverage their NCR FastLane investment by migrating additional transactions to self-service," said Mike Webster, NCR vice president for Self-Service Solutions.

"Retailers can focus their staff on activities such as food preparation, delivery or other services, while NCR FastLane Order and Pay takes care of shoppers' ordering and transaction activities.

NCR navigates convenience for shoppers

In Europe, NCR has launched its Retail WayFinder kiosk, the first self-service solution to enable shoppers to find products in-store with ease without having to find a member of staff or queue at the customer service desk.

The average supermarkets now hold an average of 25,000 product lines, and consumers can now type the name of the product they are looking for into a search engine and the kiosk displays the fastest route on a map that details the item's department, aisle number and shelf location, with the option of printing the map.

The software can be interfaced with the retailer's existing PLU database or website, which results in automatic changes to product availability and pricing initiatives. All communications can be customised to reinforce an organisation's existing brand identity, to ensure the delivery of a clear message across all touch points.

The company's Mall Wayfinder allows visitors to locate stores, restrooms and phones by searching on the multilingual, interactive directory, which supports targeted advertising and the promotion of upcoming events.

Between 40-50% of consumers make three or more short visits to stores each week to buy a few items, and reducing the duration of these trips is a key priority, according to research commissioned by NCR.

DIY demand: Global case studiesSelf-checkout solved recruitment challenges for iki

Lithuania's second largest grocery retail chain by turnover has successfully completed a three-month trial of NCR FastLane, the self-checkout from NCR Corporation in IKI's supermarket in Vilnius.

This year the retailer will expand its deployments to two more stores in the city due to popular demand, and has revealed plans to install up to 100 more self-checkouts.

The debut of the new technology is part of a steady series of firsts for the company in the Baltic market, according to Egle Nutautaite, retail director, UAB Palink - IKI Supermarkets.

"We were perceived as innovation leaders in the market, and showcased the first self-service supermarket in the country. We opened the first in-store French bakeries with 100 types of fresh breads, rolls and cakes made from flour and water, and we were the first to launch delicatessen and fresh fish counters," claims Nutautaite.

IKI was the first retailer in Lithuania to dual-price its products in Euros and Lithuania Litas and to offer the choice of paper or non-plastic Bags for Life.

She explains that the self-checkout units are marketed as IKI Bee, with on-screen branding including the company's honeybee logo. They have been developed to accept the retailer's loyalty card IKI Premium, cash and card payments, and to highlight pricing promotions.

NCR FastLane doubles the number of service points within the same footprint as traditional manned checkouts.

"After joining the EU, there was a dearth of labour and people were not willing to work efficiently and provide quality of service, so there were long queues and high levels of customer dissatisfaction, and by January 2007 we decided to examine self-checkout options.

"We were the first company to introduce a loyalty program for shoppers, and coupled with our modern, fast POS systems and self-checkouts, we will maintain a competitive advantage.

The chain operates 219 stores in Lithuania and Latvia, and it employs more than 9000 people. As only one attendant is required to look after multiple self-checkouts, staff can help retailers improve customer service levels by assuring on-shelf availability of merchandise and providing product advice.

The CV: Egle Nutautaite

She has worked as discount format manager for Leader Price, at the time operated under a master franchise agreement with Casino Group, and joined UAB Pablink as category manager in 2001. She previously worked as imports manager at Lithuania's main alcohol and tobacco importer UAB Mineraliniai Vandenys,

For all the latest retail news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.