When United Co-operative and The Co-operative Group came together in July 2007 it marked the largest merger of a consumer-owned mutual retailer since the modern Co-operative movement was founded in 1844. At the point of merger the company had a turnover of £9.4bn and around 2,249 stores.
As a result, the newly united healthcare estates now had approximately 750 pharmacies under The Co-operative brand. Customers would enjoy an improved pharmacy experience as the two companies brought together their strengths in healthcare services.
After the merger, it was critical to make sure that the same high level of service and efficiency was being experienced across all healthcare branches.
It was soon realised that the most effective way to unite operations across the estate was through a new retail management system. The goal was to keep processes consistent whilst supporting the individual needs of the branches.
The challenge faced by the project team in charge of this; headed by Joanna Smith from The Co-operative, was the diverse mixture of retail systems currently in use. Across the 400 Co-operative branches and the 350 United branches, a number of different third party till systems were being used with differing hardware and software platforms.
Some of the retail tills had epos functionality, but weren't being used to their full potential. Many systems had no epos functionality and differed from branch to branch. With tills that didn't offer scanning but relied on manually keying in each transaction, there was little management information available, a higher risk of inaccuracy as well as lengthy transaction processes.
It was decided that a completely new epos system would have to be introduced to replace all existing epos and back office terminals within the healthcare estate.
The Co-operative Group was already enjoying the InControl Evolution system within its food stores and was accustomed to its flexibility and scalability in handling the demands of the retail industry. Confident that the healthcare estate could benefit from a proven retail management system, InControl was selected as the most suitable choice of epos systems.
Through merging so many different branches, the project team decided that a central system for hosting and data warehousing would be more efficient than the independent back office hardware systems used at the time throughout the food estate.
The InControl team were asked to develop the retail software so that each individual pharmacy accessed and updated their management information at a central location. In addition to minimising hardware costs and maintenance for each branch, it meant that all employees whether on the shop floor or at head office were working from the same data.
The healthcare estate wanted to see a vast improvement in the process of collating, and quality of management information. Automated reporting with faster updating was essential for store managers to make better business decisions, increase sales and improve the level of service to customers.
This requirement turned into a key product development phase for the InControl Evolution system. As a result, InPrice Central Merchandising emerged which would later become standard across the entire InControl system.
To provide a suitable epos system, the project team had to assess the unique requirements of the pharmacy branches and submit specifications to the development team. Some of the unique features developed for this project included:
The development team were then able to design and deliver a tailor made solution for the branches.
In May 2008 a pilot initiative began at one pharmacy with a wider test phase initiated at 50 stores by September 2008.
On the back of a successful pilot phase, full roll out began in early 2009, with all stores being successfully converted by November 2009.
With the new epos till systems in place, employees at the healthcare branches found they had much more control over customer transactions including processing voids, refund and promotions. The large touch screen epos tills made it easier to view and process transactions and improved accuracy and reporting.
Transaction times were much faster, particularly with the integration of credit card payments. Previously, many branches had to process card payments through PDQ machines. This often meant a lengthy wait for the customer as well as being susceptible to inaccuracy. The InControl epos tills offer complete Chip & Pin bank card processing accredited with HSBC, Streamline and Barclays. As a result, pharmacy employees have found transactions much simpler to process; reducing customer wait time and providing a smoother point of sale experience.
Store managers found that the new systems gave the branches a more professional look, feel and experience for customers. The till terminals used the space more efficiently, creating a more enjoyable working area for employees. Many branches also found that the advertising screens at the tills were effective in keeping customer attention whilst customers waited for drugs to be dispensed.Changing the epos terminals over to InControl allowed the healthcare estate to make a positive visual impression to customers on the shop floor as well as revamping the level of service they experienced.
In addition to providing an efficient front of house experience with the new epos tills, InControl revolutionised the back office processes and systems. Managers found that the cash management process was simpler and faster than before. Many previously paper-based cashing up processes were handled by InControl, improving accuracy and saving time.
InControl integrated easily into the central finance system which meant that as the cashing up process completed, the results were automatically updated and viewable across the business.
The pharmacy branches were able to benefit from a range of new cash management tools including:
Managers found that InControl made accounting more accurate and more straightforward than before.
The InControl central data system transformed the availability of management information across the healthcare estate. Instead of lengthy and manual reports, information on processes were logged and updated across the new system automatically.
With incremental details about sales, procedures and promotions being built up in real time, managers and store employees had better access to current data. This provided them with an improved picture of what was happening within the store on a daily basis. With data being stored and hosted at a central location, all systems within the healthcare estate could create reports from the same details. For the first time, from head office to store level, everyone was working from the same information.
As Joanna Smith points out: "The systems are particularly easy to use to view pricing and promotions and information reports are delivered in almost real time. Prior to InControl, many branches had little to no management information, and those that did, often had to wait overnight for reports to be compiled. InControl has been particularly helpful in helping managers assess their performance on a day to day basis; improving business decisions. At head office, it has provided a better overall view of the entire healthcare estate."
The central solution largely minimised hardware requirements, making the system much more stable and reliable and reducing costs for hardware and maintenance.
Customers of the Co-operative pharmacies enjoyed additional benefits that weren't available before the InControl epos system was introduced. With information centralised and controlled more efficiently, loyalty benefits could be introduced across the healthcare estate.
Members of the Co-operative Food stores were already enjoying loyalty benefits and these could now be extended across the entire range of pharmacy branches available. Customers were not only enjoying an improved level of service within the pharmacies but were able to get much more out of their Co-operative membership.
Initially brought in to unite the processes of the healthcare estate, these are just a few other ways that InControl has successfully transformed The Co-operative healthcare estate: