Store employee now reachable with 12,000 smartphones

Since 2020, Colruyt Lowest Prices has been replacing all task devices in the stores with new smartphones. With a personal communication device for each store employee, everyone can easily be reached, making the communication with the head office and central logistics so much easier. And, our customers benefit from a more efficient service. “We worked together intensively behind the scenes to get this job done”, says application manager Kevin De Muynck.

Tags Technology Projects

Smartphone in the dishwasher

In 2018, the preparatory work for the switch to smartphones started. It was Jef Colruyt’s ambition to digitally connect all store employees with their colleagues, as well as with the company’s central services. The existing task devices proved to be unsuitable. Kevin: “So, we started looking for a device that could handle the daily store tasks, as well as the communication. Scanning barcodes, updating electronic price labels … The smartphone also needed to be strong and reliable, because a store environment is not always the best place for electronics due to the physical work. Finally, we opted for a rock-solid smartphone that was also extensively subjected to a physical test. It even survived the dishwasher.”

Blank slate

Once the hardware was selected and tested, the real challenge started: making 12,000 devices ready for use in a professional environment. The project team now had a blank slate to work with under the leadership of project manager Richard Coppens, taking into account the various functions for which the device will be used. The team determined which apps had to be installed on the smartphone and drew up a tight schedule, in consultation with the departments involved. “Because they are meant for very specific tasks, typical of our company, we developed most of the apps ourselves. For example, we made sure that the electronic price labels can be adjusted by use of the smartphones. It was therefore not only a challenge to design the apps in-house, but also to align them with our existing systems”, says Kevin. Before the apps are installed on the device, Kevin, who has the final responsibility, assesses them in terms of a number of crucial criteria. Are they future-proof? Do they meet the main technical criteria? Have they been properly tested? The final decision is his to make. “When something isn’t right technically, it will affect 12,000 devices. As a big company, we can’t take that risk.”

From chat messages to Colruyt Group App Store

The chat function is already in full use. Does the bread need to be replenished, or is someone needed at the checkout? A text is now the quickest way to get the message across. The in-house developed to-do app is already installed on the devices. It makes it possible to organise urgent actions, e.g. removing a product from the shelves that is recalled by a supplier. In a follow-up phase, we are looking to install Colruyt Group’s own apps (Collect&Go, MyColruyt, Xtra, SmartWithFood, etc.), which will make it a lot easier for employees in the store to get in touch with customers and show them the many possibilities of the apps. The functionalities of this smartphone will be built up step by step.

Expansion to other store formats

“The devices will be distributed to all the stores in different phases. After extensive testing and a thorough analysis, all stores will gradually make the transition. After that we will look at the possibilities of extending the system to our other store formats. It will involve a total of 16,000 smartphones. Mainly thanks to the close cooperation of many different teams we can achieve this.”

Training and support

Of course, the store employees will get training to ensure that everyone learns to use their device properly. In each store a central user shares his knowledge with colleagues. Additional workshops will follow, for example for employees who are not used to working with a smartphone.

“In addition, my colleagues and I are available in case of questions or problems”, says Kevin. “We will take turns to answer questions, because the activities in our stores start at 5.30 am.”

The development and management of the apps is an ongoing process. The existing smartphones receive a quarterly update and we are regularly asked by various departments to develop new applications. That is one of the aspects of constant innovation within the entire Group.