The Co-operative Food deploys an efficient point-of-sale solution

Working with IBM to optimise IBM SurePOS 340 technology

Published on 18-Jun-2010

Validated on 01 Dec 2011

"IBM technology forms a solid foundation for our store systems, and provides an environment that enables us to offer great service to our customers." - Mark Hale, IT Director at The Co-operative Food

The Co-operative Food


Deployment country:
United Kingdom

Business Integration, Energy Efficiency, High Availability , Infrastructure Simplification, Optimizing IT, Optimizing IT, Retail Store Solution


The Co-operative Food is part of The Co-operative Group’s family of businesses, and has over 60,000 staff and 3,000 food stores and supermarkets in the United Kingdom. Ranked the top ethical supermarket in the UK, The Co-operative Food is the only retailer to sell food grown on its own farms, and is the country’s biggest supporter of Fairtrade products.

Business need:
The acquisition of 750 Somerfield stores meant that The Co-operative Food wanted to create a consistent, updated point-of-sale (POS) solution across its whole estate. The business wished to find a solution that could be implemented with minimum disruption to trading, and that would provide higher performance.

A long-standing relationship with IBM meant The Co-operative Food was ideally placed to become one of the earliest adopters of the IBM SurePOS 340, and integrate it with its own InControl-Evolution POS application. By implementing the IBM SurePOS 340 in the newly-acquired Somerfield stores, The Co-operative Food will be able to standardise on IBM SurePOS technology running its preferred in-house application throughout its 3,000 stores.

Saves space and reduces clutter, due to its small footprint and minimal cabling requirements. Increases energy-efficiency, with an estimated 35 percent saving on annual electricity costs. Simplifies installation due to a single power lead powering the base and all peripherals.

Case Study

The Co-operative Food is part of The Co-operative Group’s family of businesses, and has over 60,000 staff and 3,000 food stores and supermarkets in the United Kingdom. Ranked the top ethical supermarket in the UK, The Co-operative Food is the only retailer to sell food grown on its own farms, and is the country’s biggest supporter of Fairtrade products.

Supporting business expansion
Following a recent merger with Somerfield, The Co-operative Food acquired more than 750 stores across the country. This increased the number of till lanes from 7,700 to almost 12,000, and presented a significant logistical challenge when it came to IT support.

“The acquisition of the Somerfield stores was a huge business opportunity for The Co-operative Food,” said Gary Wardley, Service and Solutions Manager at The Co-operative Food. “We faced the challenge of maintaining the business offer at Somerfield while implementing Co-operative values – we wanted to share the best practices of both organisations, and ultimately emerge with the best of both worlds.”

Standardising the POS landscape
Point-of-sale (POS) solutions lie at the centre of retail operations. The acquisition of new stores meant it was a high priority for The Co-operative Food to ensure that high quality POS hardware was used across the estate.

For several years, the company’s strategy had been to standardise on IBM POS hardware: for example, following the acquisition of 600 United Co-operative stores two years earlier, The Co-operative Group had replaced the existing legacy hardware with the IBM SurePOS 33H. Similarly, the timing of the Somerfield acquisition presented The Co-operative Food with an opportunity to bring the ex-Somerfield infrastructure in line with its other stores, while adopting the latest leading-edge IBM SurePOS technology.

In updating the POS environment at the newly acquired stores, The Co-operative Food planned to minimise disruption to trading by ensuring that the new solution could be rolled out quickly and easily. The first step was to audit the existing POS landscape, and decide how best to standardise.

The Somerfield stores were running IBM POS hardware with the IBM 4690 Operating System. Around 95 percent of the existing Co-operative Food stores were also using IBM hardware – SurePOS 32H and 33H units – and running InControl-Evolution POS, the POS application that the company develops in-house.

Damian Milnes, Senior Hardware Analyst for The Co-operative Food explains: “We have been using IBM SurePOS 300 Epos systems since 2003 and our support teams know the 32H and 33H models inside out. When it came to comparing potential vendors the IBM product was a natural front-runner. As the Somerfield procurement reached it final stage, the 340 was still at a prototype stage, but it was IBM’s proven track record and well known robustness that clinched the deal for us.”

Integration with leading edge software
Choosing to roll out the IBM SurePOS 340 to the recently acquired Somerfield stores enabled The Co-operative Food to deploy its InControl-Evolution POS application relatively easily, avoiding the cost and inconvenience of a major software upgrade. This continuity also minimized business risk in terms of development.

InControl-Evolution, a leading application in the food and pharmaceutical retail industries, has been developed by The Co-operative’s in-house software team, and draws on the company’s deep expertise and many years of experience in the retail environment. InControl-Evolution is an application rich in functionality, developed by retailers for retailers, providing a solid, adaptable platform for a diverse range of operations.

The software is built around the principles of a service-oriented architecture, enabling functionality to be deployed across a wide range of devices. For example, store managers at The Co-operative Food can access the application via mobile devices while they are on the shop-floor, enabling them to react very rapidly to the changing needs of the retail environment.

InControl-Evolution takes information management to a new level, combining the ease of intuitive interfaces in-store with powerful data access directly from the centre to enable better business decisions at the sharp end of retail operations

“InControl-Evolution was developed on IBM units, and since we became the first and largest global users of the IBM SurePOS 300, we have ported the application onto the new technology,” explains Lawrence Freeman, Manager of the Software Development Team at The Co-operative Food. “We always recommend its use on IBM hardware, as we believe IBM technology is simply more robust and reliable than competing vendors’ products.”

A valuable partnership
Since The Co-operative Food selected the IBM SurePOS 340 while the hardware was still at prototype stage, the IBM testing labs volunteered their services to solve any issues and challenges the company identified. The relationship would prove to be beneficial to all parties involved, as The Co-operative Food team was able to draw on its extensive retailing experience to suggest improvements and modifications that could benefit any retailer in a real-life environment.

“We were all very impressed with the IBM SurePOS 340 prototype – within minutes of it arriving on my desk I took it to pieces, but surprisingly I was able to put it back together again a minute later. It is the best delivery of a tool-less component solution I have seen,” comments Milnes. “The hardware had also evolved in our favour, with more powered USB ports, a powered RS232 port and most importantly dual onboard VGA ports. All of our previous models required us to install an additional graphics card in order to deliver media clips and cross-brand advertising on our customer facing screens, which we do to give our customers the best possible experience while at the checkouts.”

Superb performance at half the size
Space is a precious commodity in supermarkets, as retailers seek to maximise the area available for stock and minimise clutter. The Co-operative Food stores all POS base units under check-out counters, a space that is also used to house carrier bags, high-value products and other store items.

“It is a massive advantage that the IBM SurePOS 340 is half the size of our old units,” explains Wardley. “Not only do we now have more space for storage, but the smaller size makes the unit more manoeuvrable and a lot less cumbersome to install. A single power cable means engineers do not spend long periods threading power leads for all the peripherals, and it is easier to access and identify problems since there is only one point of failure.”

Greener power usage
The Co-operative Food conducted a series of tests to assess the power usage of the IBM SurePOS 340 units in a real environment, and see if it could live up to the promised reductions.

Milnes explains: “The IBM SurePOS 340 promised a lot in terms of increased power efficiency, so we were keen to discover how this translated into actual savings and whether our carbon footprint would be reduced. By connecting the entire checkout to a power monitoring device, I was able to place the 340 head-to-head with the legacy equipment in our stores. I found the IBM SurePOS 340 to be 50 percent more efficient than the IBM 33H and 29 percent more efficient than our legacy Fujitsu TP-X, which also uses a Celeron® M CPU.

“This would equate to an estimated £120,000 per year saving to our stores or 1.5 million less kWh units in electricity. If all tills on the estate were IBM SurePOS 340s, this would reduce our annual checkout electricity cost and usage by 35 percent.”

The low power and low voltage demands of the IBM SurePOS 340 are due to an innovative design built around a Mobile Intel® Celeron laptop processor. This means units require less cooling and consequently fewer fans and vents.

“Due to the fact that the IBM SurePOS 340 has no side vents, it makes the base unit more versatile and robust for sideways or flat placement under our counters.” said Milnes. “Base units in our stores are often smothered by overflow stock or carrier bags being stored under the counters. This leads to base units overheating and failing as the side vents become blocked at both ends, but this is not the case with the 340s.

“We performed temperature stress tests and simply found it impossible to tip the system temperature past the threshold of 54°C – even after we tried wrapping the unit in a plastic bag for over an hour! Given the under-the-counter placement of the base units, this is exactly the sort of temperature resilience we need in our point-of-sale solution to ensure high till availability for our customers.”

He adds: “The IBM SurePOS 340 is our strategic platform for the future and represents an ideal partner for our InControl-Evolution application. With its small footprint and clear labelling, the 340 is a support team favourite at The Co-operative, with both the service desk and onsite engineers.”

Looking to the future
Mark Hale, IT Director, concludes: “The Co-operative Food is pleased to have been partners in the launch of the IBM SurePOS 340, and we are confident that our relationship with IBM will continue to be mutually beneficial. IBM technology forms a solid foundation for our store systems, and provides an environment that enables us to offer great service to our customers.”

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

SurePOS 300 Series

Legal Information

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