SPAR launched the first of several technology pilots at its Euro SPAR convenience store in Belfast in January. The store is testing self checkout and electronic shelf-edge labelling in an effort to prove the business benefits for small stores.

SPAR UK IT controller Roy Ford says: “It is to prove that technology like this is not restricted to big hypermarkets. At the moment, we are doing a proof of concept to prove that these things are attractive.”
Self checkout has been a hit at big supermarkets, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, despite it being marginally slower for customers than employee-operated tills.

The shelf-edge labelling technology is being used on all Euro SPAR’s products on shelves. When store employees hold a handheld device against the label, the technology tells them how much stock is on the shop floor or in the back room.

This year, SPAR will introduce the same technology into two more stores and will add it to another three next year.

Separately, the retail chain hopes to make a decision about choosing new software to replace its existing electronic point of sale system this summer. “At present, the best thing we have seen out there has a 70 per cent match to what we want,” says Ford. Last year, the convenience retailer announced plans to expand its use of handheld devices in its stores in a bid to automate paper-intensive processes.

The take up of mobile technology among retailers is accelerating as it affords huge operational benefits from having information to hand anywhere in the supply chain. SPAR uses handhelds for routine stock taking, price checking and monitoring wastage. SPAR conducted a trial using Nordic ID PL3000 handhelds with PDA-size screens. Using the devices, employees will be able to check sell-by and best-before dates and ensure that promotions are actually on the shop floor.

For example, store managers can report on critical operational factors such as availability of fresh foods and top selling items, and upload the information directly to the back office, enabling SPAR at the centre to get the information it needs to drive replenishment.