Boots has become the first retailer to deploy IBM’s SalesAssist application across its stores, claiming the iPad-based software will give its staff more information, generate more sales and allow it to use the advantage of having 2,500 physical stores to compete against its rivals.
SalesAssist is one of the 100 MobileFirst for iOS applications developed by IBM and Apple as part of a wide ranging partnership and Boots had a significant role in its creation.
The application allows staff to view product information, inventory, and see if an item is available at another location if it is out of stock. If it is in stock elsewhere, it can be ordered and collected later. The use of IBM’s analytics platform also allows staff to make recommendations and a user profile also helps assistants advise customers more effectively.
Robin Phillips, director of omni-channel and development at Boots, explained it was important to give employees access to the same information that customers can now obtain from social media and the web. Indeed, the app is very visual becomes many of its customers make decisions based on images.
“What we needed to do was to get our colleagues to be able to do what customers can,” he said at Boots store in the Westfield White City shopping centre. “I saw customers coming in store [with images on smartphones] and asking colleagues ‘do you have that?’
More than 3,700 iPads will be distributed across Boots’ network of stores, but Phillips made it clear that SalesAssist was the first stage of a wider strategy. Boots already uses IBM’s Bluemix cloud platform to link applications and data and runs on IBM’s WebSphere commerce platform.
“[We needed to] deep dive into what our customers were telling us and how our omni-channel presence. SalesAssist is one of those initiatives,” he said. “What do we need to do online? What’s the data behind this? How do we make sure our customer is getting the right information? That’s quite a large strategy. You’ll see a number of things that result in a better mobile and web experience.”
But Boots already has customer facing applications and inventory tracking systems. What does the IBM partnership allow it to do that’s different?
“We’re not just taking a back end system and putting it in a device,” said Shamayun Miah, IBM’s European head of the Apple partnership, replied in response to TechWeekEurope’s question. “We’re changing the way employees work. We’re doing it in a ln extremely simplified way.”
“One business process took 21 steps and we took it down to three steps. It’s all about user experience. The second thing that’s different is we’re bringing in data. We’ll eventually bring in cognitive features [through IBM Watson].
“Sixty percent of mobile projects will fail because of integration. I need to make sure it’s a platform that integrates into your commerce system. It will be the platform you build on. It’s the app of apps.”
“Apple bring real understanding of the device,” he said “These devices are extremely powerful with different sensors.”
SalesAssist will be offered to other retailers, but IBM made it clear that Boots involvement as a launch partner was essential. Vickie Ward, a Boots customer assistant, was invited to Apple’s Cupertino headquarters to give the opinion of someone who would use the app every day and give insight into what staff and customers demanded.
“Since [Boots] is a foundational client and the first to bring it to market, we all designed this together,” Robin Bryant, retail lead for the Apple IBM partnership, told TechWeekEurope. “This app is based on this specific feedback that ensures this is applicable across the industry as well. We built the app require as little as customisation as possible but we realised that with most retailers there was going to be some nuances [that require personalisation].”
IBM and Apple joined forces in July 2014, agreeing a wide-ranging relationship that has seen IBM bring its cloud, analytics and mobile management services to iOS, and supply customers with iPhones and iPads running industry-specific applications.
For Apple, the deal is an important pillar of its strategy to boost its presence in the enterprise amid fears the market for mobile devices in developed markets is saturating. CEO Tim Cook has said his company’s business ambitions are “not a hobby” and that is vision could transform enterprise mobility.