Company: NSBCustomer: New LookSubmitted by: MCC InternationalDate: April 1999The new millennium is no longer a shadow on the distant horizon. It’s bearing down on us at a rate of knots and few business sectors are feeling the heat quite like the retail industry. As we approach the turn of another century, competition for customers on the high street will become more and more intense.Increasingly, a flexible and reliable IT infrastructure is the principle support for the retailer’s endless quest to streamline customer service and fine tune the supply chain. It is also the platform on which they are building strategies for a successful future.
New Look is one of the UK’s fastest growing fashion retailers. Between 1996 and 1997, it opened 64 new stores and increased its operating profits by over 35%. It now has around 450 stores throughout the UK and mainland Europe. It also has a base of over 600,000 customer account holders. Over the last year, the company has embarked on a major IT systems upgrade which will help it to maintain this keen competitive edge into the next millennium.In March 1998, following a detailed evaluation of the retail systems market and an intensive pilot scheme, New Look selected NSB, a leading developer of application software and supplier of EPoS systems and services to the retail sector as the basis for its revamped multi-million pound IT strategy.
NSB is supplying its core Windows NT-based EPoS system running on IBM servers, and a range of customised, complementary back office software to handle credit card authorisation at the point of sale and manage special promotions.Once the software had been selected, an aggressive roll-out campaign commenced. After a break for the busy Christmas sales period, this accelerated to around 30 stores per week. New stores are automatically opened with the new systems in place. The entire project is on course for completion by May 99.
“Our previous systems were rather old and slow and were unlikely to see us through Year 2000 compliance,” explains Steve Beattie, New Look’s director of logistics and IT. “Our main priority was to find a faster system which would also allow us to carry out credit card authorisation on-line. We considered a number of suppliers and asked them to take part in a short pilot test. From that, we selected NSB to go on to a more detailed pilot stage. Once we were satisfied that the system was stable and successful, we signed them up.”According to Beattie, stores begin reaping the benefits of speed and accuracy as soon as they are brought on-line.
Evidence from the point of sale suggests that transactions are completed between 15 and 20% faster than before, and automated credit card authorisation has also delivered considerable time savings.Sales information is transmitted back to the company’s Weymouth head office, enabling buyers and managers to change the promotional stance on particular product lines much more quickly. This is entirely in keeping with New Look’s bright, distinctive marketing style built around fast response to customer reaction. Campaigns can be amended and implemented in as little as four days.”The NSB software has made it easier for branch staff to do their jobs and therefore has helped us improve our service to our customers,” says Beattie.
In the long run, the systems will deliver a wider range of applications to the point of sale, giving branch staff more information to manage. An extensive training programme has ensured that all New Look’s sales people are able to maximise the benefits.”They’ve responded very well indeed,” says Beattie. “They love it. Our investment in training is substantial.
Typically, we provide it right across the shop estate. It is cascaded down from the store manager to the staff who usually assimilate the EPoS system with relative speed. Management training for the banking and administrative applications is more complex and takes a little longer.”From a systems management perspective, the decision to use Windows NT as the operating platform has provided tighter IT integration across New Look’s branches and head office. The company has implemented first line support in Weymouth, with software support calls escalated to NSB if necessary.
“They have shown a good understanding of our support requirements, as you would expect from a supplier which specialises in retail,” says Beattie. “They’ve demonstrated a good understanding of the market and given us a reliable core for our back office system.”Beattie says that while the business benefits of faster transaction processing and more responsive customer service have been achieved almost immediately, some of the most exciting developments lie in the future. The new system is the platform for the company’s expansion plans in the coming years.”This project will facilitate growth,” he adds.
“We can support a wider product range, for example, in our price look-up file. It removes many of our old constraints as we move into larger stores.”Beattie explains that the system meets all New Look’s current requirements for banking and administration at branch level. But once the roll-out is complete the company will work with NSB to develop functionality in the back office, with the ultimate aim of automating the distribution of corporate information.”There are a lot of potential electronic, paperless opportunities for us to exploit over the Wide Area Network and we have started pilot work on that,” he says. “Currently, we distribute a great deal of merchandising and staff information in hard copy format.
Ideally, we will look to automate that so it’s produced directly at the target branch.”Likely applications for this include staff time sheets and attendance records, payroll information and the ordering of non-sale consumables. If New Look’s example is anything to go by, the days are long gone when in-store IT benefits were limited to the till transactions. The customer facing front end is, once and for all, united with the back office. And closer synchronisation between the two can only be good for competition and the future of the business.