The Covid pandemic has been a dire time for most high street retailers. Shops have been forced to closed for prolonged periods, including the traditional Christmas rush, and several big-name brands have disappeared for good, unable to compete against their online-only rivals.
Electronics goods seller Elkjøp is one of the few high street stores firmly bucking this trend. As the largest consumer electronics seller in the Nordics, Elkjøp — which is owned by UK electronics and telecoms retailer Dixons Carphone — operates 400 stores across six countries, with 10,000-plus employees.
This time last year, the firm's outlook seemed pretty bleak. Executives at the store were focused on issues like how big a revenue hit they would take in 2020, planning for scenarios with as much as a 50% fall. However, in the first half of 2020, Elkjøp's turnover actually grew by up to 20%, equivalent to about $140 million.
As countries across the globe shut down to protect against Covid, people rushed online to stores like Elkjøp to order home office kit, meaning the firm is coming into 2021 in a far better place than it thought it would be. Rather than having to spend the last year managing staff redundancies or store closures, as has been the case for so many retailers, Elkjøp has instead invested in a major next-generation retail project, which began rolling out to stores in May.
More like an Apple Store experience
Essentially the idea is to offer an Apple Store-type experience in its shops. Elkjøp provides staff with handheld devices running a new sales application, which the retailer calls Blueberry, so they can look up customer data, check stock or take payments. This application sits on top of an Azure microservices layer, which connects into an SAP back-end ERP system. Sebastian Andersson, Nordic Operations Project Manager at Elkjøp, explains:
We are basically preparing ourselves for the future. We are building a system landscape with a more modern architecture compared to what we have today.
Everyone who has been to an Elkjøp store probably remembers our old DOS application with a blue window and white print. This old-fashioned solution will now be replaced with a much more modern version similar to our website.
Elkjøp chose retail consultancy firm EINR as a development partner for the project, which recommended Neptune Software for its platform. The resulting Blueberry sales application was built as a Launchpad, which is the vendor's Fiori-based tool for grouping together all the apps a user may need to do their job. At Elkjøp, this acts as the entry point to its Blueberry apps on mobile and desktop devices. Each app is displayed on the home page as a tile that the user can launch, with tiles shown based on a user's role.
API-first and Azure microservices
According to Camilla Eikeland, Partner at EINR, the project required technology that wasn't fully dependent on the SAP ERP back-end, but could be centralized around Microsoft Azure microservices, hence the choice of Neptune Software's Planet 9 rapid development platform with its API focus.
This combination — an API-first approach, Azure and SAP ERP — has been proving popular with enterprises, as noted by Owen Pettiford on diginomica last year, who notes that Azure often acts as an alternative to SAP Cloud Platform. Based on the results of Elkjøp's project, the approach works well. According to Eikeland, the retailer now has a modern and scalable platform, built around scalable microservices. She adds:
Elkjøp started their Azure microservices journey a few years ago, and during the project they have both enhanced existing and added several new services where Blueberry is the main consuming part right now, but many will be shared with other channels, especially commerce. The microservices consumed include customer info, product data, stock, price, mobile offerings, delivery options and payment methods.
Blueberry will be used across all 400 stores, and has already gone live in around 40 shops in Denmark, with other locations following throughout 2021. As well as the core sales app, Elkjøp also developed a payment, after-sales and last-mile delivery apps. Eventually, all of Elkjøp's 10,000 employees will use the Blueberry apps, including staff at the contact center and to some extent those working in the back office.
Everything happens in the Blueberry app
The apps are primarily targeted at the sales staff, who will be equipped with a handheld device to search and locate customer records and order history, change the customer profile, carry out product searches via a built-in scanner, and toggle between when and where to have items delivered — to the shop, to a nearby store or to the customer. Sales assistants can also take payment via the card terminal on the mobile device, and view, email or print the customer receipt. Andersson says:
Selling consumer electronics is quite a complex process, and we want this single application Blueberry to support everything. So business to business sales, kitchen sales, sales with home delivery, and for sales where we delivered the product immediately in the store, you should be able to give discounts and create offers, and finish orders and take payment immediately with the device together with the customer.
So it's only when the customer wants to pay with cash that we actually send the customer to the till, where we have Blueberry Pay.
Staff can also use the Blueberry app to track their own performance data, with access to sales targets, store rankings and how they're trading compared to colleagues in their store or across the whole country. Andersson adds:
This is very popular out in the stores, they like to check out the figures all the time.
Getting it right on the high street
While this new investment in bricks and mortar may seem shortsighted against a backdrop of so many high street closures, Elkjøp is convinced it's the right move for its business model. Although many customers search the website before heading to its stores, only 15% of Elkjøp's customers purchase items online. Andersson explains:
This means that the customer service representative is still important, and he or she can now use information about what the customer has searched for or added to the basket, and in the process give even more precise and expedited advice.
The main improvement with this Blueberry application built with Neptune Planet 9 is it's mobile. The seller can walk around with this Honeywell device, and have all the product information and stock information and lead time information, all of this available in the device when you are there together with the customer to make the process more efficient. It helps us to provide a better customer service basically.
It would certainly be nice to see one retailer getting it right on the high street amid so many shops closing down for good. Channeling that seamless Apple Store experience, Elkjøp staff complete the effect with branded blue shirts — not in Apple's trademark bright blue but appropriately more of a blueberry shade.