Woolworths plans national beacons rollout to improve click-and-collect customer service

Supermarket giant has completed a proof-of-concept trial with one store using proximity marketing technology to improve customer service around click-and-collect

Woolworths is looking to roll out beacons across all of its click-and-collect stores following a successful proof-of-concept trial of the proximity marketing technology with customers.

The supermarket giant offers a click-and-collect service for groceries across 254 stores nationally, allowing customers to place their order online and pick it up in-store. Woolworths Online head of business development, Elise Barber, told CMO one of the challenges is that customers have to queue behind other shoppers when they arrive in-store, meaning it takes “an inordinate amount of time” to get served.

Customers then have to wait to be called over the PA system once their order is ready. Once that’s done, they’re required to sign a piece of paper acknowledging the order has been fulfilled.

“The time wasted is unknown and the feedback was that it was frustrating for customers,” Barber said. “We offer this great and efficient service online, but it’s not carrying through in-store.

“Ultimately with groceries, we’ll never get to a point where we’re storing these orders at the front of the store – we have to go out the back to get all of these items that are chilled, frozen and so on. So the biggest challenge is reducing service times for the customer.”

In a bid to tackle the service issue, Woolworths embarked on the beacon trial late last year in partnership with boutique proximity marketing consultancy, Localz.

The initial proof-of-concept kicked off in the Norwest Circa Woolworths store in Sydney, which was fitted out with beacons. Customers were asked to download a dedicated mobile app to access the click-and-collect service. This app was connected directly to the in-store systems, ensuring seamless communication of a customer’s order and proximity to staff, Barber said.

When a click-and-collect customer comes within radius of the store, a notification is sent to Woolworths’ picking systems, prompting staff to start completing the order. Certain triggers at different stages of the fulfilment process then prompt a push notification via the app to a customer, telling them the order is ready.

Woolworths is also working with Localz to allow customers to sign for an order on a handheld device, eliminating physical paperwork. The service works with existing Android devices being used by staff in-store.

“This is much more professional and matching the in-store experience with that experience online,” Barber said. “It’s all about winning from a customer point of view – the store process is the same. But it’s about reducing service times for the customer.”

When making an online order, customers provide their email address and receive an order number. That email is linked with the in-store picking systems and the app, to ensure Woolworths knows when that customer is in the proximity as well as generating appropriate notifications to that customer.

“We did a 10-customer study just before Christmas and nine out of 10 loved the service,” Barber said. “By the time they got to the service desk, the order was there, which was a great win.”

Another great outcome of using beacons is that customers no longer have to choose a window of either morning or afternoon to collect their groceries.

This is much more professional and matching the in-store experience with that experience online

“Once that notification is sent, those access times are irrelevant,” Barber noted. “The customer can go to the store at their leisure. That’s better from a customer point of view as we’re not tying them to a window.”

National rollout plans

The success of the pilot has given Barber confidence to embark on a rollout of the proximity marketing technology to all 254 click-and-collect stores. Rather than have a separate app for the click-and-collect service, Barber is looking to integrate this functionality into the supermarket’s existing mobile app, which is due to be relaunched in the next couple of months.

“We want to avoid having people download more apps on their phones – it’ll be an option to tick on and off,” she said.

Barber said the catalyst for the project was a desire to improve the customer’s experience and the convenience of the click-and-collect service. “We wanted it to be a lighter touch experience,” she said.

Barber anticipated the production rollout would see Woolworths place up to four beacons in each store – one or two at the entrances to the supermarket itself or the shopping centre, as well as one inside the store. She hoped to have the service in place across all stores by July.

“The challenge is the maintenance side, and we’re working through that, which will be very different in a production environment,” she said. There are also still hurdles to jump around maintenance of the devices, which have a battery life of three years.

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Selling beacons to the business

Internal enterprise agreements and infrastructure will be the largest costs overall, but once these are in place, the beacons could be utilised for other services and with other apps, she said.

One of the biggest internal challenges Barber faced was raising support for the new devices. She pointed out traditional technology investments have historically depreciated over a 3-5 year period, yet the pace of proximity marketing innovation and mobile apps means this is more likely to be only two years.

“It makes it harder to get some of the business cases and costs over the line,” Barber said. Understanding whether the beacons are providing a tangible benefit, and when they’re not, is another key consideration in how to position the rollout to the business, Barber said. As a way of gauging success, regularly customer surveys and feedback will be vital to measuring impact, as well changes to Net Promoter Scores of each store, she said.

“It’s about customers telling me they love it – that feedback brings a smile to my face as it’s about knowing you’ve got it right,” she said.

Woolworths needs to keep up with other new digital innovations to stay in tune with customer expectations, Barber continued.

“In a year’s time, there might be something completely different out there – we’re talking already about the extra functionalities iPhones are getting – and this is all new. So keeping abreast of all these technologies is important.

“Given this is the first instance of this for Woolworths, there’s also that whole piece around whether we bite the bullet and put infrastructure in place to use it in lots of areas, or if we look at this as being for just one thing. It prompts lots of debate, but that’s a good thing.”

Barber said rolling out the beacon rollout won’t directly pay for itself in terms of margin, but is a necessary part of delivering excellent service to customers.

“That’s hard to measure… it’s not going to be proved by more goods in the basket. But it’s about keeping that [customer service] debate alive, keeping up with it and learning from it,” she said.

Beacons aren’t the only way Woolworths is looking to improve customer experiences around the click- and-collect service. The supermarket chain has also been trialling touchscreen terminals in-store for customers to use to notify staff of their arrival and order, although Barber admitted these haven’t reduced waiting times.

In addition, the supermarket is looking at how it can utilise drive-through facilities at its sister BWW liquor stores to make it easier for customers using click-and-collect.

“It’s all goes towards improving our overall services to customers,” Barber added.

More on beacons and proximity marketing technology

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