As the volume of online grocery shopping orders increases, so too does the retailer’s need for hard working IT-based picking solutions which are a step forward from the traditional clipboard and printed list. Help is at hand from X2 Computing, one of the UK’s fastest growing providers of high performance, mobile computing solutions. The company uses the latest, state-of-the-art tablet and handheld computers, as well as keeping a watchful eye on emerging IT, including voice, wearable and other technologies, to deliver custom solutions designed to meet the specific needs of retailers and logistics operations for a wide range of different tasks. X2’s custom solutions also include scanners, batteries and custom software. To complete the package X2 provides custom ancillaries and accessories as required, including charging cabinets and extra strong cables for scanners as well as providing high levels of pre and post sales support.
A growing area of expertise for X2 is the supply of integrated computerised picking solutions to UK and European retailers for their home shopping services. These solutions combine trolleys and the appropriate IT along with powerful, all day batteries and a full battery recharging capability. X2 also has the qualified technical resources in-house to deliver a range of custom services such as application development and wireless integration. The company delivers complete deployment solutions, holding stocks of picking trolleys and associated IT equipment and rolling them out to stores on a planned basis.
X2 is winning more and more orders for its picking trolleys, as Internet grocery home shopping continues to gain in popularity. Recent customers include Waitrose, for in-store fulfilment of orders placed over its WaitroseDeliver Internet service, and Modelo Continente Hipermercados, the retail division of Sonae in Portugal, whose IT partner SISQUAL called in X2 to upgrade their picking trolleys and enhance the picking process from clipboards and order printouts. Both customers are featured in case studies in this spread. Francis Davis, X2’s Sales & Marketing Director, spoke to The Grocery Trader.
The Grocery Trader – Francis, what does your role as X2’s Sales & Marketing Director involve?
I lead our sales and marketing function. As well as retail, this includes the gaming and hospitality markets in the UK and USA.
GT – Do you personally speak to retailers and logistics companies about solutions for their picking requirements? Do you get involved in developing picking solutions for individual retailers?
Absolutely! I love to get involved working alongside Tanya Trotman, our Retail Account Executive who deals with retail sales including picking and packing solutions. We spend several days working with retailers to get a clear understanding of their business and what they are trying to achieve. This often includes working instore with the picking trolleys, marshalling back of house and going on the road in a home shopping delivery van. The result of such exercises is that we can develop our picking solutions to really enhance retailer’s current processes and be an evolution towards more productive working.
GT – Who else is on your UK senior management team?
Our other two senior managers are Peter Skinner, Managing Director and Jonathan Wharrad, Development Director.
GT – How are you set up as a company to service the needs of UK multiple grocers for picking solutions?
We have several large customers in the multiple grocery area and picking is a major part of our portfolio as an IT provider. We work on a project basis rather than a ‘COTS’ – Commercial Off The Shelf – one. Tanya, creates a team consisting of a project manager, a pre-sales engineer and a support person to ensure every element of a solution is of the highest standard.
GT – When was X2 founded and which other countries does the company operate in?
X2 was founded in June 2006. We now have customers in Ireland, Portugal, Norway, Spain, the USA and Australia and work closely with partners and distributors to provide local support and repairs.
GT – What levels of customer service do you offer?
We have three tiers of customer service: Level I is internal support, with on site staff within the customer organisation; for Level II we provide either remote IT support by phone or send a replacement device delivered by a smart courier who also installs it; and for Level III, when a device comes back to us for major repairs we repair it down to mother board level and send the client a replacement unit or put the fixed device into our stock, where one has already been provided under Level 11 support.
GT – How big a part of your business is retail?
Retail is currently about 40% of our business – this part of our business is growing but so is our turnover overall, so the retail proportion holds steady.
GT – What are the specific elements of your picking trolleys?
They comprise a unique new range of trolleys, from 4 to 14 totes, with a ruggedised tablet computer, a compact all-day battery, built-in scanner and a custom charging solution housed in lockable furniture for added security.
GT – Where do you develop your trolley solutions?
We have a full design and CAD capability in-house at our UK offices in Evesham, Worcestershire, which is where we’ve been since we started. We have recently expanded and now occupy three industrial units.
GT – Where are your trolleys manufactured?
We outsource our manufacturing to one of the world’s largest manufacturers of trolleys and retail equipment.
GT – How did your picking trolleys for Waitrose come about?
Our first contact with Waitrose was at the Retail Solutions show at London Excel in 2008. A member of the Waitrose board came onto our stand. We’d created a prototype picking trolley, which we were exhibiting, they saw it and liked it, and the rest is history. So far we’ve supplied around 1,500 picking trolleys to Waitrose.
GT – What are some of the innovative parts of the Waitrose solution?
One of the biggest innovations is a fifth turning wheel, which gives it a tighter, smaller turning circle. The fifth wheel is also used in our Modelo contract. Another feature is an advertising panel on the front, which is used to advertise products in Waitrose stores. This finishes off the trolley’s appearance and makes it more attractive in store.
GT – What about the Modelo contract? How did this come about?
SISQUAL, a specialist technology company based in Porto, which is an existing software partner to Sonae, Modelo Continente Hipermercados’s parent company, saw our picking solutions and said they’d like something similar.
GT – How was the solution for Modelo different from the Waitrose one?
In Modelo’s stores there is a high volume of POS material in, gondolas or bins, in the middle of the aisles between the shelves. We came up with the idea of a two-part trolley, which allows shop staff to use a smaller two-tote trolley in the aisles, to increase manoeuvrability between gondolas, and dock back to the main six-tote unit.
GT – I imagine you could offer this solution to plenty of other retailers too?
The retailers all have their own ways of picking – some use totes and onboard terminals, others prefer handheld devices. It comes down to the retailer’s preference. We’re also looking at alternate trolley solutions involving nesting trolleys, for staff to use in dotcom shopping fulfilment, and smaller projects for customers with 10-12 picking trolleys and people picking very small items with baskets.
GT – How many picking trolleys have you sold to date?
In total we have supplied over 10,000:
GT – Do your order picking solutions interface with stores’ EPOS, Voice Picking and Warehouse Management systems? Do they work wirelessly on existing IT networks?
Yes is the answer to both questions. Some retailers have their own software, and we simply provide hardware and support. Others are moving from paper-based picking systems and printed pick lists, so we can provide software and middleware making our solutions ‘fat finger’ friendly for touch screen operators.
GT – Do you work with other IT integrators such as voice suppliers?
We haven’t got involved with warehouse voice picking suppliers yet: at present we have only got involved with front of house picking, this generally doesn’t involve voice, but people are always looking at new ways of working and it’s certainly an area for further development.
GT – How long can your trolleys operate before needing battery charging and changing?
Our trolleys can operate for eight hours plus, between charging. You can leave them on all day with overnight charging. The batteries we use are very reliable and can last up to 18 months. We have also developed some bespoke charging furniture providing a dedicated charging area and integrated battery management processes.
GT – How many tote boxes do your trolleys hold?
Our Waitrose trolleys hold six totes, other customers use eight totes, others more, some less. We work in partnership with retailers to configure the trolleys to hold however many totes are required.
GT – What’s the maximum load in terms of weight that one of your trolleys can hold? Do you need to be a bodybuilder to move one of your trolleys, or can a five foot person move them?
The fifth wheel makes the trolleys much easier to push and manoeuvre. During early in-store trials with Waitrose, we loaded a trolley with large plastic bottles of water, one of the heaviest products in grocery, and asked a lady of five foot one to manoeuvre it around the warehouse. She was able to easily steer the trolley with one hand and push it with one finger.
GT – Are your trolleys powered?
Normally our trolleys are pushed by hand and don’t have motors. However, if required, we can manufacture the trolleys with battery-powered motors for back of store and warehouse operations.
GT – How unique are your picking trolleys? Why choose X2 to supply a picking solution?
Our picking trolleys are unique, and although anyone can claim to offer flexibility and speed of response, what sets us apart is our total solution approach. Starting with the pre-sale design we provide all the elements backed by professional service, including next day repair or replacement with intelligent couriers. If we can’t help we’re confident enough to say no – we don’t want to waste our time or the customer’s, we like to add value to both sides.
On the account management side our deployment is 100% – we can say hand on heart we deliver on time and to expectations. We have really good project management staff and a ‘can do’ attitude from all our support and logistics people. In IT that side of things is often a nightmare, but we take the nightmares away.
GT – Efficiency and productivity is as important in home shopping as in any other part of a multi-channel retail business. How much more efficient and productive do picking operations become if they switch to one of your solutions? Have you got figures?
GT – How quickly do retailers see a return on your picking solutions?
If a retailer gets a 20% improvement from an investment in our picking solutions, the ROI will happen in less than 12 months, and the return will be far bigger than the investment.
GT – How quickly can you replace trolleys if things go wrong?
Sometimes trolleys get damaged by fork lifts, and at other times things get broken due to simple human error. When it happens we’re there next day with replacements. If the computer gets a fault, we either fix it remotely or perform a next working day swap out and fit a new one using a smart courier.
GT – How long does it take to deliver the trolleys?
The average time from placing the order to delivering the first units can be as short as three months.
GT – Do you carry out installation and staff training?
Our installation and handover record has been consistently 100% since we started. This highlights our staff’s can do attitude and our excellent project managers. In terms of training, we make our picking solutions simple to use, enabling them to be fully operational in the shortest possible time.
GT – Can you tell me a little more about how you handle nationwide rollouts of picking trolleys to national retailers?
It’s quite straightforward as we are geared up to handle bigger projects with a large number of tablets, but equally we wouldn’t turn down smaller ones. It comes back to our can do approach.
GT – What other IT products and solutions do you supply, which are relevant to grocery retailers and logistics operations?
For Waitrose we have supplied all the touch screens for their Quick Check solutions. For Oakwood Distribution we supplied digital signage for their marshalling areas and, for several other clients to enhance their warehouse picking facilities, we have provided fork lift mounted solutions comprising touch screens at eye level, with barcode and RFID scanning and reading. For a major pharmacy operation in Spain and other European countries, we supplied a loading bay solution with touch screens for checking cages comprising stock deliveries being loaded on to delivery vans making daily deliveries to their shop network.
GT – Finally, where do you see X2’s picking solutions going from here?
We’d like to be seen as the default choice for retailers wanting touch screen IT. In partnership with our customers, we are also looking at voice, wearable, and other emerging technologies that will further enhance picking solutions and make the most of the human element utilising all of the five senses. It’s not just about bar codes and RFID! Maximising the tote fill is also a current factor, on the shop floor, or in the Distribution Centre, and sees us getting more involved in advising customers about working processes.
We also plan to move beyond picking solutions and touch screens and offer touch screen-based customer information devices in areas such as supermarket cafes. We’ve recently done a guest survey project at the gates to Disneyland, in Florida on tablet computers, and this technology could also be used widely in retail. It’s certainly a very exciting area to be in, both for us and our retail customers.
Tel: 01386 830082