Celebrating innovation

House of Fraser, Iceland and Republic and technology suppliers such as K3, Intelligent Retail and Retail Manager Solutions were amongst the winners at the 2009 Retail Systems Awards, which took place in London on 29 October.

The awards, held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, are now into their fourth year and continue to go from strength to strength. Retail Systems received a record number of submissions this year and the quality of shortlisted entries was extremely high.

Representatives from a range of retail organisations, including Tesco, Asda,Torex, Marks and Spencer, Salmon, Comet, Specsavers and The Co-operative Group were in attendance at the event, which kicked off with a welcome speech by Paul Rodgers, Vendorcom chairman and part of the 2009 judging panel. "It gives me great pleasure to join Retail Systems in recognising the teams and individuals behind tonight's shortlisted projects - the frequently unsung heroes who work hard to boost their companies' effectiveness and bottomline performance, and provide the highest possible levels of customer service across a range of channels," he said, adding that: "The doom mongers have been out in force in 2009 but we should remember one thing: whilst retail is feeling the full force of the financial crisis, it will recover and technology will play (and is playing) a major part in its revival. Some retailers have slashed IT budgets in order to weather the storm of 2009, but I strongly believe that it will be those organisations who continue to invest in innovative technology - that promotes better interaction with customers, that allows our frontline staff to perform to the best of their abilities, and which offers management a bellwether of true business performance - who will be best placed to start climbing the ladder as market conditions improve."

"Tough times have heightened the focus on the customer in a way that has put them in charge. It's not about a retailer's 360 degree view of the customer, rather it's about understanding customers' views of the retailer, its products and services. That's a significant change of perspective! The technology featured at the awards reflects this growing attention to the customer experience," he continued. "Retail is gearing itself up for the second decade of the 21st century; investment in technology is a clear priority and, if the buzz and energy at the awards is a measure of the mood of the sector, things are looking up."

A three-course dinner followed and then this year's host, Chris Barrie, took to the stage to deliver a quirky opening routine in the guise of a close relative of his most famous comic creation - Gordon Brittas, although Red Dwarf fans would perhaps beg to differ on that one. Barrie then kicked off the awards ceremony by welcoming Neil Ainger, Editor of Financial Sector Technology magazine, to the stage to present the first gong of the evening. This was for EPoS solution of the year - a category that contained a number of strong entries, but the judges felt that the award should go to a project that met all objectives, including improved transaction times.

Roll-out of the Toshiba ST-A10 TouchPOS to Thorntons stores commenced in September 2008, with all stores completed by the end of October 2008 in time for the Christmas rush. The retailer has been using the solution for 10 months and as well as the cash transaction times improving by 67 per cent, the chip and PIN transaction times have improved by 56 per cent. Customers and staff provided feedback that queues were shorter and moved faster than the previous year.

The next award of the evening was for Supply chain solution of the year and was presented by Christine Bardwell, retail technology analyst at Ovum (and also part of the 2009 judging panel). The stand out entry had streamlined the data exchange process and improved the efficiency of the supply chain through better management of information. In 2008, House of Fraser partnered with Inovis on the Inovis Catalogue to create a best-of-breed communication platform through which all parties could share product data and images in a collaborative fashion. Henderson (Spar)/Zetes were highly commended in this category.

Working with Zetes, Henderson (the owner of the Spar and other retail franchises in Northern Ireland) has successfully integrated traceability technology into every stage of its supply chain. Zetes has implemented real-time systems to control every stage of the company's supply chain processes, from goods receipt to picking to the final arrival of groceries.

Next up was Back office solution of the year, presented by John Woods, publisher of Retail Systems. This went to Holland and Barrett/Retail Manager Solutions. Retail Manager was the core application in a larger project to improve communication with, and compliance within, the store environment. By the deployment of a browser within the store, Holland and Barrett's retail outlets were able to simply engage with the new application and embrace the benefits of having real time access to communications and information.

Presented by Scott Thompson, Editor, Retail Systems, Best use of in-store marketing technology in retail saw House of Fraser pick up its second award of the night. This was for a project involving Estée Lauder/Lime IT Media Solutions. Estée Lauder required an interactive digital signage solution where customers could engage with digital media in a way that was not possible with passive aisle mounted large screens running TV style content. The aim was to use the latest RFID technology, providing shoppers with media content specific to their needs at the point at which they are making the decision to purchase.

The 2009 awards featured a number of new categories, including Multi-channel retailer of the year. Kiddicare emerged victorious here. James Roper, chief executive, IMRG, handed the award to the retailer, which was established in 1974 and is now the largest privately-owned nursery supplier to the public in the UK. The judges were impressed by its continued focus on providing the best possible shopping experience for its customers. In the past 12 months, Kiddicare.com has created a seamless ordering process both online and offline and embraced new retail technology innovations to improve the customer experience further.

The sixth award of the evening was for Best use of technology in the hospitality & leisure sector (presenter: Malcolm Pinkerton, Verdict analyst). There were several strong entries in this category but the judges opted for a Cineworld/Protouch project. The second largest multiplex cinema chain in the UK, behind Odeon, has rolled out Protouch Xen X5 and X4 kiosks into a number of its cinemas. It installed the X5 kiosks into five of its sites, which include Glasgow, West India Quays and Cheltenham, in late 2008. They are used in the cinema's main foyer for the Unlimited film programme that entitles visitors to watch any film, any day, any time and at any cinema from £13.50 a month. On the back of the success of the X5s, Cineworld is now rolling out 34 Xen X4 kiosks into 13 of its sites. These will be used by cinema goers for ticket purchase and collection and will run as either wall or floor mounted kiosks using the latest Chasis Printer technology for printing ticket receipts. Collectively the kiosks have brought down ticket purchase handling and paper costs and are particularly beneficial for managing customer data.

This was followed by Card programme of the year. Andrew Johnson, director general at the UKGCVA give the award to Wickes, which has launched a new customer loyalty scheme in 2009, by the name of MyCard. This offers cardholders one point for every £1 spent in-store. Customers can redeem 1,000 points for a £10 Wickes voucher. The programme has created a multi-faceted customer contact strategy and delivers relevant offers and rewards based on what customers need and buy.

Retail security initiative of the year, presented by Retail Systems publisher, John Woods, saw Screwfix/192business emerge victorious. Using 192 eShopper-ID saves Screwfix an average of £45,000 per month in charge-backs. The return on investment (ROI) to the company in employing this technology is nearly 10,000 per cent. The cost of paying to verify customer identity is easily outweighed by the cost of not doing so, reports Steve Hicks, fraud manager at Screwfix.

In the Card and payments solution of the year category, (presenter: Vendorcom's Paul Rodgers) the judges went for a groundbreaking project that addresses such security issues as theft, fraud, staff protection and health and safety. House of Fraser scored their third success of the night for deploying Premier INTEGRATED into all till points so that every card payment will identify whether the customer is eligible for a VAT refund and, if so, automatically print a government 407 form directly from the till. By capturing all eligible customers automatically, the number of tax free forms dramatically increases, leading to improved customer service and untapped sales opportunities.

Meanwhile, Empire Cinemas/YESpay International were highly commended. The cinema chain has introduced self-service kiosks for ticket purchasing and collection, supported by YESpay's EMBOSS payment system. Julian Timm, IT director at the group, says: "The kiosks have taken over £800,000 in a three-month period and have helped increase payment security and reduce queues. This has saved us time and money, and improved the customer service experience."

Retail website of the year was a tough one to call, but in the end the judges opted for Prezzybox.com, which was founded in 2000 by Zak Edwards - just as the dot.com bubble was about to burst. The site launched in 2001 with a raft of products and features - such as the gift wizard, wish list feature and referrals scheme - and has gone from strength to strength. Throughout this growth the same ethos has always been maintained - to sell a great range of goodies, with a fun and friendly approach, whilst maintaining a strong customer focused service.

Technology vendor of the year was a new category that pulled in a large number of entries. Ovum's Christine Bardwell returned to the stage to reveal that the judges were particularly impressed by Bazaarvoice, a social commerce technology company. Clients include Argos, Boots, Halfords, Wickes, Thomas Cook, QVC and Boden. Bazaarvoice's products - Ratings & Reviews, Ask & Answer and Stories - enable customers to review products, ask and answer questions and share stories online; enhancing the online shopping experience and allowing them to make more informed and rewarding purchase decisions. This category also saw a highly commended nod for Torex. The company has 20 years' experience of working in partnership with some of the world's most forward-thinking retail, hospitality, petroleum and convenience brands. A recent Martec IT in Retail report revealed that Torex is the most widely used PoS system among the UK's top 100 retailers.

Republic picked up the award in the IT project of the year category, presented by Martin Saunders, marketing director at Clara.net. IT is at the forefront of Republic's growth plans and remains the driver for efficiencies across the business. IntellinetStaff was chosen to automate the retailer's payroll and HR processes and improve the delivery and accuracy of employee and timesheet data into the existing payroll and HR system, as well as improving control over scheduling staff deployment.

In the IT team of the year category, Martin Hawkes, new business director at Torex, announced that the judges were impressed by Iceland. During the last year, the Iceland team have delivered over 100 projects including a major upgrade to the retailer's warehouse management systems, a new supply chain optimisation system, a server consolidation programme and a new integrated HR and payroll system. It also achieved increased availability of critical systems for the fourth year in a row.

Retailer of the year was a category that attracted some impressive entries, but ultimately the judges singled out Carpetright. Philip Biggs, operations director at Sysrepublic, said that the retailer has continued with its strategy of investing heavily in IT in the last 12 months, in spite of economic conditions, knowing the benefits it has already received and confident of the future. It has made several acquisitions recently, ranging from 120 Sleepright stores to smaller chains consisting of a few outlets. In every case, Carpetright has rapidly implemented K3's Microsoft Dynamics store system, supported by the company's SAP Head Office suite. This has enabled instant visibility and control of these businesses.

Another new category was SME retailer of the year. Discount Baby Equipment/Intelligent Retail accepted the award from Sarah Peters, Verdict analyst. This was for the retailer's implementation of Intelligent Retail's Connect solution. "Connect has helped our business in many ways. Firstly it has helped us to easily keep track of stock levels and see which items are selling and which items aren't. That allows us to make better buying choices. We now buy in smaller quantities, more frequently, which saves money. Updating our new website is really easy. It was a pain on our old system and this led to the old website getting neglected. With the new website I make updates every day, it's so easy, there is no excuse now! The barcoded receipts/price labelling system is also very good and makes life so much easier for all the staff when dealing with sales and returns," says Martin J Bean, director at Discount Baby Equipment.

Presented by Onno Van Der Valk, European CFO at Hughes Network Systems, European solution of the year saw The Carphone Warehouse/Fizzback run out winners. The Carphone Warehouse has selected the Fizzback Engagement Platform to assess its customer experience, improve advocacy and drive superior employee performance. Ashley Cook, the retailer's business operations director, states: "We're committed to offering the best customer service on the High Street. Fizzback gives us a new level of visibility into the in-store customer experience and provides actionable insight into areas for improvement."

In the Outstanding individual achievement category, the judges opted for John Bovill, group IT director, Aurora Fashions. Lisa Gayle, sales manager, Retail Systems gave the award to Bovill. In the past year, he has presided over several impressive projects as Aurora continues its journey to become a multi-channel retailer. Key factors in this journey have included: making the transition from bricks and mortar to clicks and bricks and seamless end-to-end service proposition: reserve online and buy in-store; buy online and collect in-store; buy online and return in-store; order in-store for delivery anywhere. All of which was set against the backdrop of a management buy out, as Mosaic Fashions, owner of such brands as Oasis and Karen Millen, acquired the majority of the group out of administration and transformed into Aurora.

Final award of the evening was in the Overall winner category. Scott Thompson, Retail Systems Editor, made a return trip to the stage to announce that several companies were considered for overall winner this year, but in the end the judges chose Kiddicare. The judges were impressed with its first rate website and the multi-channel initiatives that are driving its business forward, Thompson noted.

With all the awards handed out, Chris Barrie closed by congratulating the winners and nominees and encouraging all those in the audience to let their hair down, with a disco, bar and a fun casino in the Grosvenor's Ballroom Foyer running into the early hours. Many thanks to all those who attended and to our judges and sponsors, Hughes Europe, Torex, Sysrepublic, Claranet and Retail Manager Solutions. We look forward to seeing you all again at the 2010 Retail Systems Awards, taking place on 28 October, where we will celebrate our fifth anniversary.

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