Mothercare is recognised worldwide as the number one company for parenting. it's product range includes maternity and babywear, home and travel, toys, safety and babycare. With a 40-year history as a high street retailer, Mothercare has 232 stores throughout the UK plus a large overseas business via franchise stores. Currently, the company employs over 4,000 people.
Mothercare is in the process of installing a new EPOS system across it's UK retail estate. To ensure the project ran smoothly, Mothercare engaged retail IT specialist Paul Mason Consulting (PMC) Limited, to produce the Invitation to Tender (ITT), manage the support system, vendor selection and provide roll out implementation services.
Mothercare's current EPOS system is 14 years old and in the words of Kevin O'Brien, Mothercare's IT Director, was overdue for replacement: "IBM is renown for reliable store systems but 14 years is about the limit. The system had become increasingly fragile, functionality was limited and hardware reliability was poor to the extent that it was natural for stores to run on two tills instead of five because they could never get the other three working properly."
"When we decided to replace the EPOS system it was clear that we would need an external consultant to help ensure a successful project. An in-house IT function can handle an EPOS project but they cannot be familiar with every new system in the market and up to date with new technologies. We wanted to engage someone with that level of experience and expertise, and having worked with PMC previously, the choice was an easy one to make."
Mothercare carried out a series of internal workshops to evaluate what it's people wanted and expected from an EPOS system. Here, PMC assisted by developing templates to ensure that Mothercare asked the right set of questions with the business requirements fully documented, evaluated and prioritised. They also assisted in the development of the evaluation criteria and process to ensure that Mothercare had the information needed to make the software solution provider decision.
"When you consider that we started the project at the end of December and trialled the first store, in Kew, London the following July – that's concept to delivery within 6 months – clearly the relationship works."
Mothercare sent the ITT to five vendors and commissioned PMC to review the responses to check the technical soundness of each tender, the type of functionality being addressed and the fit with Mothercare's business. PMC then helped Mothercare to present the business case to the Executive Team, demonstrating that the project would take small but steady steps to remove any risk to the business.
O'Brien continues: "PMC remain impartial and independent. Many consultancies are not impartial and PMC is without doubt independent. They have no axe to grind and reviewed vendors on their ability to meet our criteria."
"Mothercare is going through a turnaround at present, and it is important to minimise business risks, so we retained PMC to help us with the implementation. We could have stopped using them once vendor selection was complete, however we felt that their experience could help us implement the EPOS project more effectively - they worked with us on the business change, testing phases, project management and quality assurance."
Mothercare store sizes range from 2,500 to 30,000 square feet, so it chose it's Kew store for the first trial as it is representative of it's estate. A successful trial at Kew would enable the project to roll out easily to the remaining stores. After the first trial to prove the system, it intended to move out across the grade and range of the Mothercare estate. When the Kew store went live there were no issues and no negative impact on the store's business.
O'Brien explains: "Our roots are in the high street, although we also have out of town stores. Today, we are in the middle of a ongoing programme to revitalise our high street stores. It is important that the EPOS is equally effective in all our store environments."
O'Brien went on to explain the thinking behind the carefully-controlled rollout. "We ensured the first store was successful, reviewed the criteria and as everything was working well we proceeded. We then tested across our different formats to ensure the system was equally effective across the estate. We gave ourselves two weeks to evaluate results and with everything working so well we went ahead with two further stores – Hammersmith and Hayes. I would not pretend we did not have any issues but they were so minimal as to be insignificant."
The new EPOS system operates via touchscreens, which are easier to use and able to lead operators through various transaction types. Mothercare staff used to have paper manuals on how to use the till – now they have online help facilities. This means that at any point in the transaction, if operators hit the 'help' button, the system knows where they are in the transaction, relates assistance to that point and guides them through the process.
O'Brien states: "Transaction time has been halved, which translates into shorter queues and happy customers. The system is also faster to recognise and handle special promotions. From the customers view this is a clear benefit, especially if they have a small children with them."
"We also have increased back of house functionality at the till. Now, the manager can carry out back of house functions without having to leave the shop floor. In addition we have web enabled each till, making it possible to take customer orders online – hence no more paper order forms."
Included in the eight-store rollout was the brand new Mothercare store at Thurrock. O'Brien comments: "To open a new store with the system shows the confidence we have in the process and that the business has in our EPOS solution.
"PMC, working as part of an integrated team, combining good processes, software and their knowledge and experience of implementing point of sale solutions has given us one of the best EPOS implementations I have ever seen."