European first as Argos puts voice control in its stores

4 Dec 2009

Argos has become the first European retailer to deploy a voice-directed put-away solution within 130 Argos stores, to enhance operational efficiency in the back of store area.

The retailer has struck a major deal with Zetes to deploy the system that will improve put-away and stockroom management, space utilisation and service levels.

A first

This is the first time any retailer, either in the UK or mainland Europe, has used voice in-store as a quick and easy way to speed up the put-away process and operate a more flexible, customer-driven stock room.

Since introducing the voice solution, Argos has seen significant process improvements through reduced time to the final sale point.

“Previously, stores needed to put away products within each cage and then release the products for sale. Now individual items are released for sale as soon as they are put away – on shelf literally means on sale,” said Alan Jeffries, head of Store Operations at Argos.

Argos began working with Zetes on a proof of concept pilot to validate the business case for the initiative in 25 of its stores, which took place during the peak trading period of 2008.

Ahead of time

Following this, Zetes was awarded the first phase of the integration contract and was subsequently successful in achieving the project objectives within half the original time forecast – a rate of 15 stores going live each week. As a result of this performance level, Zetes has been appointed to lead a company-wide roll-out to all Argos’ 740 stores.

Depending on their sizes, Argos stores can receive up to two daily deliveries. The company is using voice technology to notify delivery assistants of where to store each product in their “back of store” warehouse.

Working in this innovative way has proven to improve Argos’ put-away process efficiency by up to 24pc. Voice technology has also enabled Argos to introduce line positioning in the stock room, allowing complete flexibility over the layout with fastest-selling products to be stored closest to the customer collection points.

The technology also means smaller stores have the ability to stock a greater variety of products because items can be shelved anywhere and easily retrieved without the need for delivery assistants to have detailed stock-room knowledge.

What’s in the voice solution

The in-store voice solution being rolled out by Zetes for use by the delivery assistants will comprise the Zetes’ 3iV application software and supporting management tools, and Vocollect’s T5 Talkman computers, VoiceClient and VoiceConsole software. Comprehensive support and maintenance is being provided by Zetes as part of the Zetes Care solution.

Zetes is Europe’s largest integrator of voice solutions. The company has now completed more than 800 voice implementations, which equates to more than 60pc of all live projects, supporting an installed base of more than 45,000 users. Today, more than 250,000 distribution centre workers worldwide depend on Vocollect Voice technology.

James Hannay, Senior VP for Northern Europe at Zetes, said: “The voice put-away solution means Argos can be more agile, both in terms of designing the stock-room layout around the fastest-moving product lines and also in the way they can manage their resourcing requirements.

“Staff will be easier to train and recruitment can be more flexible because the delivery assistants need to have less prior knowledge,” Hannay said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Argos staff are beginning to work with a voice-directed put-away solution.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years