A.S. Watson replaces its backroom equipment


A.S. Watson has replaced its IT equipment in all 1,750 stores in record time. It took just two months to install new computers and printers in every branch. This meticulously planned operation was put in the hands of Centric, which was working on a second project at the same time: installing 250 self-scan checkouts in the group’s Kruidvat stores.

A.S. Watson has as many as 1,750 stores in the Benelux, under brands including Kruidvat, Trekpleister, ICI Paris XL and Prijsmepper. The group aims to keep prices in these stores as attractive to customers as possible.

“That’s why we’re constantly looking at how we can make our business processes and resources as smart as possible. That goes for the IT infrastructure in our stores too,” says Kees Bovée, IT Manager at A.S. Watson.

His team’s job is to keep the group’s IT as simple as possible. All stores under all of the group’s brands use the same POS hardware and software, and in the backroom, you will see the same standard PCs with the same printers everywhere. “We use the free disk space of the POS systems to back up the PCs. So, if something happens, we can always restore a back-up without having to invest in advanced solutions.”

The back-up method shows the creativity needed within A.S. Watson. “It’s easy to just pack every store full of very expensive, state-of-the-art technology.

But we need to guarantee stability and continuity by coming up with smart solutions. We challenge ourselves to do that every day, so we can give as much back to our customers as possible.”

“Every Service Engineer knew exactly what they needed to do as soon as they set foot in the store”

Kees Bovée IT Manager at A.S. Watson

Well prepared

The large number of shops does help when it comes to devising smart solutions, says Bovée. “We have the room to take some extra time to plan before we roll out a new solution. If we need to spend an extra 100 euros per store on an engineer, then that’s an additional cost of 175,000 euros. It’s better to think things through first and save that amount.”

Replacing the equipment in the backrooms of all stores is a prime example of a well prepared project. This equipment is used for a variety of purposes – from retail processes and information transfer to HR planning and onboarding. But the existing equipment was outdated, says Bovée. “We monitor the number of faults on a monthly basis and noticed an increasing trend. So we needed to take action.”

To replace the equipment, A.S. Watson turned to Centric’s extensive service network. “We have been working closely with them for over seven years. If a hard drive crashes in a store, Centric sends an engineer out to replace it. Their engineers are our eyes and ears on the shop floor. If something strange happens there that we can’t explain from our office in Renswoude, it’s nice to have IT-savvy people on the ground.”

Military precision

Replacing the equipment in record time was driven by efficiency and minimises the time IT colleagues need to spend updating the software on both old and new computers.

But replacing a computer is not just a case of unplugging the old one and plugging in the new one. The engineer must first back up the local data on the old computer. They then need to restore that data to the new computer, along with all software. “Because the old computers still had an old SQL database, transferring data was anything but easy,” Bovée recalls.

To make sure the replacement operation took no longer than two months, A.S. Watson and Centric planned it with military precision. “We have worked out the whole process step by step, from installing the new equipment to removing the old equipment, and everything in between. We had a test run in the office at Centric first, and then we trained all the primary engineers. That meant that each service engineer knew exactly what they needed to do as soon as they set foot in the store.”

Proceeding with caution

The roll-out itself was planned down to the last detail. All the engineers developed sophisticated procedures to minimise the time spent in any one store, so they could get through as many stores as possible. “If there was a Kruidvat branch on the same street as an ICI Paris XL branch, for example, the engineer would go to both stores on the same day to reduce travel time,” explains Bovée.

When the time came, the team of engineers proceeded cautiously, as practice is often more challenging than theory. “There’s always something you overlook in the preparation. So we first tested the approach in five stores and then fine-tuned it. After that, there was a three-week period when we resolved the remaining teething problems. After those three weeks, we really went all out, getting through about 1,400 stores in ten weeks, almost 30 stores a day.”

Self-scan checkouts

But that’s not all: Centric also started installing self-scan checkouts in Kruidvat stores last year. “This allows us to always keep a checkout open without actually having to have someone sit there. Customers can pay straight away, which cuts down on waiting times,” explains Bovée.

Last year, self-scan checkouts were fitted to 100 stores, with another 250 expected this year. “Not every Kruidvat store will get automatically these. We are looking at which stores have the greatest need and enough space available. It is not just about replacing a POS, but about adjusting the whole layout. Plus, the approach is different from replacing backroom equipment; since these units are customer-facing, aesthetics are an important factor. Centric is the one installing the self-scan checkouts, but we need to get other partners involved to move things around the stores and redirect the electricity network,” explains Bovée.

Higher than expected

To minimise disruption to the stores, as much as possible was done to get the self-scan checkouts ready in advance. Centric installed store-specific software and built in anti-theft systems, so all that was left to do at the stores was plug them in. The customer adoption rate has been higher than expected. “Traditional checkouts in Kruidvat stores will never disappear completely, because we always want to offer customers a choice. But by installing self-scan checkouts, our colleagues in-store can spend more time with customers, which they appreciate.”