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.
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.
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.
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