iPads to save Woolies millions
WOOLWORTHS, whose normal role is feeding its supermarket customers, last week fed its 890 store managers a technology diet. It gave them each an iPad.
The big iPad rollout took place at the end of Woolworths' national conference in Sydney and was greeted with excitement and cheers.
"You should have seen the reaction of our store managers when we announced they would get an iPad," said Tjeerd Jegen, Woolworths managing director of Australian supermarkets and petrol. "They were thrilled. They started shouting and yelling and when we told them (about) the apps on their iPads, they couldn't believe it."
Woolworths says that from this week, its store managers will cease spending time in backroom offices using desktops to decipher instructions from head office and manage stock levels.
Instead, they will be visible in stores with their iPads in hand. Their duties will include answering customer emails because this week Woolworths launched a mail system for staff and customers alike.
Mr Jegen said the company estimated that store managers spent about eight hours a week behind a desk, so their freeing up represented a saving of millions of dollars. It was vital staff were at the leading edge of technology as Woolworths' customers were generally tech savvy.
"If you look at the way our store managers work, they spend quite a few hours each week behind the desk but their job should be on the shop floor with their staff, with their customers," Mr Jegen said.
"That's the reason we started to move quite a lot of the technology they have on their desktops to the iPad with applications they would normally do on the desktop to the iPad.
"We estimate it will take about eight hours out of somebody's week in terms of the time being wasted behind a screen in the office which they can now use productively on the shop floor."
The iPad rollout was done in an exceedingly short timeframe, Mr Jegen said. "Normally these IT projects for us take years. This was done in eight weeks," he said.
All stores now have individual email addresses and customers can ask managers directly about products or register email complaints to their local supermarket.
Managers will handle calls to the help desk, log complaints on the spot and organise staff rosters, all while on the go on their tablet computer.
The rollout is the latest episode in the chain's rapid uptake of technology. It includes the adoption of SAP technology to overhaul merchandising, point-of-sale and retail systems across all Woolworths' brands. There was last year's rollout of shopping apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android, which allow customers to organise shopping trips instore and virtually buy and pay for groceries from afar. An app for Big W also was released.
In February this year, the chain unveiled a trial virtual supermarket at Sydney's Town Hall station that let customers view groceries in display windows and buy them with their mobile phones. IPads had already been rolled out to 90 regional managers.
It is a big shift for a national company that had relied on an old form of IRC (internet relay chat) for internal communications rather than a ubiquitous email system many organisations have used for decades.
Several parties have been involved in the project. Apple provided the 3G-enabled, 16 gigabytes of memory, third-generation iPads at discounted prices while Optus provided the SIM cards and assisted with implementing an MDM (mobile device management) staging system that allows Woolworths to centrally control iPad content.
The MDM tool lets Woolies roll out apps and upgrades en masse to all iPads and manage security. An iPad that goes missing can be wiped remotely while new ones can be quickly set up.
Cognizant Technology Solutions developed a "tap for support" app that lets managers log maintenance calls when, say, a refrigeration unit went down. And Woolworths used Google's app stack tool, an interpreter, for mobile device development work.
The first phase of the rollout means providing managers with all the applications they were using on their desktop in a web interface on the iPad.
As well as the "tap for support" app, there's a core store communications app that tells stores about new product lines and specials.
With much of management devolved into stores, local managers have access to a labour planning, budget wages and sales app.
There's an app for managing product recalls, for viewing store policies and procedures, and for implementing "planograms" -- centrally provided designs of how products are to be arranged on shelves. Woolworths sees great benefit in managers being able to check product layouts with photos on their iPads.
A senior manager had made an instruction video on how to use an iPad that Woolworths was rolling out to all users. It was also equipping each iPad with an iBook about recruiting people with disabilities.
There is an app explaining safety systems, and Yammer, a Woolworths' implementation of the Microsoft-owned social network used by corporations, was also installed.
Staff will be using it to share sales information, their initiatives and new activities. However, it will be used socially as well. Staff can create profiles, upload photos and video and join clubs within Woolworths such as a motorcycle club, a photography club and a store managers' network.
Once the new iPad network is bedded down, Woolworths plans to focus on further improving communications, on offering analytics to store managers on sales, and more apps.
Woolworths, which is in the middle of bringing its merchandising system on to SAP, later plans to bring centralised stock management to the iPad.
It is undertaking a "proof of concept" project initially for its petrol operation that will let mobile devices in each store access the central inventory management, a system that eventually will replace stock database systems duplicated in every store.
This will allow stores to collectively manage stock, something they cannot do now. Managers will know what stock is available in other stores; they can tell customers which stores have products they are looking for, or order special items. "If you have a barbecue for 50 friends, and you want 50kg of rump steak, you can put it on the iPad and pick it up the next day," Mr Jegen said.
Woolworths will continue to hone its use of Facebook and Twitter, which offered invaluable customer feedback.