Tesco said today that several new technologies are beginning to pay dividends in the business as it completes the IT groundwork for its soon-to-launch US business.

The UK’s leading retailer, which reported 14.3% growth in underlying profits in the first half to £1.3bn, said it had completed a roll-out of thermal imaging technology to “monitor and improve our checkout service better than ever before.”

It said that since completing the roll-out of the Irisys Smartlane system “a renewed focus on reducing queues for customers has delivered significant improvement in the service.”

The Smartlane system works by using ceiling mounted infra-red sensors above checkout lanes to detect the number and behaviour of customers at checkouts. It also analyses behaviour to automatically calculate the average queue length, wait time and overall store performance. Displaying real-time queuing data on the shop floor also enables the retailer to deploy staff on tills quickly to alleviate any problems.

Elsewhere in the business, Tesco said on-shelf availability, which the retailer measures using in-store picking of Tesco.com orders, had improved, though it said there was “still scope to get better” and to this end it had been developing more sophisticated systems to deal with the impact of weather on store sales.

It said it had also improved its in-house systems for forecasting and ordering, which allowed it to better manage stock levels.

On the web, Tesco’s Tesco.com site, registered strong growth in the first half, with sales up 35% to £748m and profits up by 62% on a comparable basis to £54.7m.

The results prompted Tesco CEO Terry Leahy to hail strong progress across the group “despite the challenges posed by the start-up investment required to establish our new US and Direct businesses.”

Among its US challenges, Tesco has said it is using Micro Focus tools to reformat its legacy supply chain software to enable it to run in the US, where it is now due to launch in a few weeks’ time.

The tools are enabling Tesco to enhance a stock replenishment application to run on both IBM mainframes and IBM System p AIX servers, thereby allowing it to use the same code for both the mainframe and Unix versions of the key application.

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