High street chemist Boots plans to boost customer service with an information portal and handheld devices that will keep staff on the shop floor for longer.
By linking point of sale, pharmacy and back-end sales applications using an IBM-built intranet portal, Boots claims that more shop assistants will be able to answer customer enquiries on the spot, rather than disappearing to check internal stock systems and paper-based manuals.
The retailer will roll out the portal and wireless PDAs in 21 stores over the next month, and plans to have the system in place across its 1,450 stores by spring 2005 as part of a larger electronic point of sale (Epos) overhaul.
Staff will also be able to receive training via the portal, and store managers can access real-time sales figures, according to Brad Poulson, director of store systems at Boots.
"Through personalised sign-on staff will be able to view all the applications they need for the job, including sales, pharmacy, training and back-office software tools," he said.
Poulson added that the staff verification system will also ensure that only the right people access such information.
"It is far better for our staff to be able to answer a stock enquiry when they are with the customer rather than having to go away to find the information," he said.
"Managers can also check on how individual sales promotions are performing, and make adjustments while on the shop floor."
Boots will install wireless networks across its 150 top stores before the end of this year to bring PDA connectivity cost savings.
The portal and other business applications will be deployed centrally to stores using the firm's wide area network.
The project is part of a three-year in-store IT systems overhaul which will see 14,000 new IBM Epos systems installed across the UK.
The Epos project, which will be completed before February 2005, will equip stores with large touch-screen tills to provide customers with more information.
"The turn-around touch screens mean that shop assistants can show customers a lot more information on things like allergies or photographic services," said Poulson.
The till overhaul will also prepare the retailer for the January 2005 chip and Pin payment card fraud prevention deadline.
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