When The Co-operative Group acquired the Alldays convenience store chain in 2002 in a £131mn deal, the addition of 600 stores established The Co-operative as the market leader in Britain for convenience retailing. The acquisition significantly expanded the business's operations from the 1,071 convenience outlets owned at the time.
The deal marked a key stage in The Co-operative's growth strategy and added momentum to its expansion. With more than a 50% increase in the number of new stores, The Co-operative was faced with the challenge of unifying operations throughout the newly established food estate.
Rather than look to the market for a retail management solution, the business saw the opportunity to develop their own software, tailored to the needs of the rapidly developing retailer. The acquisition brought with it a wealth of experience that would be invaluable in shaping the technology that would eventually become InControl.
The in house development team used their direct experience in the demanding food retail industry to develop a system with functionality refined around retail operations. With a unique overview of the entire business, the InControl team were able to create a retail management system that would meet the business’s demands from the shop floor to head office.
Choosing to construct the retail software in house meant that its practical application was the foremost driving influence. The InControl team listened to the requirements of employees and store managers, translating their feedback into a system that would be directly responsive to their needs. From back office task management, epos till systems and management reporting, InControl was designed from day one to be the all-encompassing retail management system.
As a result The Co-operative Food estate became the first business to enjoy the features and benefits of InControl. It was a fitting partnership: developed alongside the business, InControl satisfied the demands of the fast-paced food retail industry; with particular focus on growing chains and multiple stores.
After the Alldays acquisition, The Co-operative propelled itself along a path of strategic growth and InControl grew with it. The InControl team continued to enhance the retail management system, refining processes to ensure that each development translated into more efficient processes for the stores and head office.
Enhancing the software in line with development of The Co-operative meant that InControl became more intuitive to the needs of the retail industry. Constant evolution brought with it agility, and improved its ability to adapt and satisfy requirements as they emerged.
With the merger of The United Co-operatives and The Co-operative Group in 2007, the aim was to once more uniform operations across the newly formed food estate. At this stage, InControl was already a proven solution in Co-operative Food and it was a natural choice to be extended to the acquired stores.
The challenge this time was the existence of several different epos systems within the United stores. Employees of the United branches were used to different software and processes. Whereas the Alldays acquisition created an opportunity to develop a new system for all stores, this time InControl would be tested on its scalability and ability to seamlessly integrate into the new branches.
The direct experience gained by developing InControl specifically for the retail industry proved invaluable. The InControl team knew that even minimal disruption to store operations would be costly and as a result carefully considered the implications of rolling out the system to the additional stores.
Key advantages of the InControl roll out included:
Mark Hale, Director of Information Services for Food Retail at The Co-operative found that InControl was well developed to handle the roll out: "Scalability isn’t a problem with InControl. The roll out was successful which meant all stores within the food estate could benefit from the new EPOS equipment along with the InControl software."
One of the key benefits The Co-operative Group experienced with InControl was the system’s agile and adaptable nature. Mr. Hale discovered that the acquisition of the United branches illuminated features that would enhance the system. "With the United merger, we were able to identify requirements that enhanced InControl to support the business even better. The flexibility of the development team meant that additional features could be integrated into InControl. This translated into benefits across the entire food store estate."
InControl continues to prove itself in its ability to support the high demands of the retail industry. The Co-operative Food estate relies upon the following benefits of the system to retain its competitive edge in food retailing:
The Co-operative knows that in a business with almost 12,000 lanes, ineffective or slow operations are costly. A suitable retail management system has to be robust, reliable and adaptable. InControl exploits well supported Microsoft Windows industry technologies to provide a dependable technical experience for our customers today and tomorrow. As Mr. Hale points out: "InControl not only supports the business with its current demands; its agility means new requirements can also be satisfied and executed effectively."
As The Co-operative Food estate achieved its position as the fifth largest food retailer in the UK, InControl was there to support the business’s evolving needs. The flexibility and adaptability of the system was a key component in shaping the retail software solution that The Co-operative enjoys today.
The Co-operative is a strong example of a customer that demands a lot from its retail management software. It continues to expand and acquire new stores, which in turn require integration of the InControl system. The latest acquisition of the Somerfield chain is a recent example of new stores enjoying the benefits of the InControl software. It is now a proven solution present in over 3,000 Co-operative Food stores and serving more than 20 million customers.
As The Co-operative pursues efficiency in its store operations, InControl provides the tools to achieve this. As the system continues to streamline more processes, significant savings are being seen in employee time. In addition to freeing up valuable time, store staff have more mobility in completing the essential day to day tasks. Advancements in the InHand unit means more back office operations can be completed on the shop floor, improving staff visibility to customers and support for employees. The Co-operative Food estate has seen this translate into a direct benefit for their customers and the business: “We are a convenience retailer so efficiency of service is an essential requisite to earn and retain customer loyalty." states Mr. Hale.
Mr. Hale points out that the in store customer journey has improved significantly through the efficiency of InControl. Some of the key benefits experienced by Co-operative Food customers through the presence of InControl include:
InControl presents effective options for communicating with customers. Customer facing advertising screens at the tills allows the business to maximise cross-promotion opportunities and achieve marketing objectives. In addition to delivering promotional messages to customers, InControl also provides a revolutionary way of collating customer feedback.
The ability to use the chip and pin pads for customer surveys has proved to be an invaluable asset. As Mr. Hale explains: "The chip and pin feedback tool has been fantastic and one example of a simple yet brilliant enhancement to InControl. We use it across all of our stores and find it produces an incredible insight into customer opinion. With the ability to ask a new question each week and answers processed within hours, we have been able to keep up to date with customer issues. This has directly impacted store and business operations to enable us to improve the relationship we have with our customers."
InControl continues to develop alongside the demands of the business, helping it to improve store operations. It continues to prove itself as a valuable asset in achieving the company's objectives.
Mr. Hale concludes: "I couldn't imagine operating without InControl as it is an integral part of our business."