Opus Voice in Dixons Rapid Response Warehouse saves merchandising costs at PC World

INFORMATION: Free information is available from MICROLISE on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

One of the UKs leading electrical retailers, Dixons Group plc, which encompasses Currys, Dixons, PC World and The Link, has made significant savings in its PC World retail store network by introducing Microlise Opus Voice picking technology to prepare shelf ready deliveries from its Rapid Response Warehouse in Newark.

Using voice technology in our picking area we have been able to create a truly hands free, eyes free process at the point of pick. This has allowed us to price label products as we pick them so that when they arrive at the store they are ready to go directly onto shelves. Improved picking efficiency has allowed us to make these savings in the stores without having any impact on productivity or cost in the distribution centre. explained John Walls, General Manager at the Newark operation.

To maintain its edge in the competitive electrical retail market, Dixons has a highly responsive supply chain. The ability to adjust promotion, price and availability on a day-by-day basis means that Dixons can outperform other retailers and have competitively priced goods in the right place at the right time.

This flexibility represents a challenge to the companys supply chain. This had previously been addressed by postponing price labeling until product actually arrived in the store. The stores had to employ extra staff just to unpack, check and price label the goods received from the distribution centre prior to merchandising on the shelves.

As part of an initiative to reduce costs in stores, and focus staff on serving customers, PC World have moved to a shelf ready delivery format, taking the unnecessary overheads away from the stores. The challenge for the Rapid Response Warehouse was to find a way of pricing and labeling product during the pick process, but without incurring any additional costs.

Dixons realised that the pricing operation was a very manual activity and any control system would have to be hands free to avoid impacting on the productivity of that operation. Microlise, the incumbent supplier of Dixons Opus warehouse management system, proposed the use of Opus Voice which uses the Talkman T2 voice activated radio data terminal from Vocollect .

The Talkman unit provides the picking instruction to the picker via a headset with integral microphone, who confirms that he or she is picking the right product by speaking the last three digits of the item bar code. The price labels (about the size of a fifty-pence piece) are printed on a belt-mounted printer worn by the picker and controlled by the Talkman unit. As a double check on the quantity being picked only the required number of labels are printed so if the picker has labels left over, or not enough labels, then the quantity must be checked.

Microlise provided Dixons with a pilot implementation so that they could test the Opus Voice technology and determine what the operational benefits were likely to be. Over a period of eight weeks Dixons conducted controlled tests with five users comparing the productivity rates of voice picking with and without printing labels and against the same processes performed using hand-held terminals. They also used the pilot to gauge how long it took to train users and for the full productivity benefits to be realised.

Armed with the confidence gained from the pilot studies, Dixons proceeded with a roll out of the full solution, comprising 50 Talkman units, across all picking zones.

Dixons invested time and effort in training and managing the human resources issues very carefully. This was particularly important due to the large number of temporary and agency staff used by the company during the peak period. Their site trainers were fully involved in training all staff and coaching them through the change in mind-set of listening to instructions instead of reading them. Focus groups were run to get feedback from users and identify where improvements could be made.

The Rapid Response Warehouse have been successful in its objective providing shelf ready deliveries to the stores network, without incurring additional costs, and Dixons has been successful in achieving the cost savings in the stores. A comparison of the picking operation, with pricing and voice terminals, against the same operation, without pricing but using hand-held terminals, showed that the productivity remained the same an average 150 packs per hour across all picking zones. So the all the additional complex pricing operation could be done without increasing the operational costs.

Comparing voice picking against hand-held terminal picking, on a straight like-for-like basis, showed an average 20% improvement in productivity an average 180 picks per hour.

Opus Voice also provided improvements in accuracy and reduced equipment damage. Although accuracy levels were extremely high to begin with, Dixons have found that the opportunities to get things wrong are so limited in the voice based application that this metric has also been pushed even higher. Whereas hand-held RF terminals are picked up and put down, dropped and lost, the Opus Voice Talkman unit, which is worn on the users belt, suffers virtually no damage whatsoever. This has saved considerably on repair and administration costs.

The management team at the Rapid Response Warehouse is now working on improving the induction and training processes of temporary staff still further, in time for the next peak trading period. They are also evaluating other areas within the Rapid Response Warehouse where voice technology can be deployed for productivity gains, such as perpetual inventory as well as the receiving and despatching areas. Dixons are considering the applicability of voice picking in other warehouses within their distribution network.

INFORMATION: Free information is available from MICROLISE on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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