Van drivers frustrated by having to wait in line to collect pre-ordered items could be a thing of the past thanks to a clever electronic fob and reader system designed by Noel Harper, Managing Director for Harper’s Specialist Cables and Components, Castlereagh, Belfast.
“When Covid-19 trading restrictions came into play, it was an opportunity to do things differently and additionally help our staff and customers keep safe,” says Noel. “Having recently built a new lighting showroom, we had decided on the area adjacent for the trade counter.”
“Timing coincided with lockdown allowing us to amend the design away from the traditional open counter and display layout, to screened service hatches and four bays of collection cubicles. Orders phoned in ahead of collection will be left out in this room on a numbered cubicle shelf. Currently we just need the paperwork signed but this will change as we improve the service.”
“It is a radical change away from how trade custom is conducted, but very effective in limiting personal interaction and unnecessary close contact. The majority of our customers are account holders and will have discussed the day’s requirements prior to requesting goods be left for collection or delivery.
At the time, wholesalers appear to be responding to a varied and unpredictable demand in the market. Order levels may be reduced, nevertheless the wholesaler seeks to provide a quick and efficient service and Harpers are adapting to assist their efforts.”
“We saw this period of adaption as an ideal moment to implement a new collection system and improve our service to the majority of our customer base.”
Working closely with a product designer, Noel created an electronic collection system that would eliminate time-wasting queues for their clients’ busy delivery drivers.
Noel explains, “Regular account holders will now receive electronic key fobs that are digitally linked to their company account with Harpers. These fobs can be issued to their van driver or assigned person when picking up their ordered items.
“The wholesaler customer places an order, we assemble it and place it in a numbered compartment inside the new collection area. When the van driver calls in, they present their key fob to the card reader inside the room (there is no need to queue). A light will automatically switch on to indicate the allocated compartment. The driver then lifts the items, which has all the paperwork attached, and leaves. There is no need to sign for the order, as it is all logged by the card reader and linked to the wholesaler’s account digitally. We get a printout to say the customer has been in and collected it and there is a CCTV record of the visit also.”
“Crucially, that person isn’t wasting delivery time by standing in line, delayed while we figure out what the customer in front of him needs.”
Importantly, this convenient service is also available out of hours, as Noel explains. “We have installed a large locker room outside our premises. The key fob will unlock the digitally coded door allowing the pick-up driver to collect their company’s order without even entering the premises. This is both logged electronically and recorded on CCTV. No signature required.
“Additionally, a customer can be given the digital entry code by their wholesaler for an out-of-hours collection, simply to allow access to the locker outside our premises. During business hours, the facility could be used for the wholesaler’s contractors working in the vicinity to have a quicker service provided the order number and time is given to assemble their requirements. Codes are changed upon operation and collection.”
Customer feedback to the order and collect system has been positive, with a huge buy in from the Harper workforce. “Our staff really appreciate how straightforward and efficient this new system is,” says Noel.
He believes order-and-collect is here to stay. “I see the automated collection system being more ingrained in the industry post-covid. It is already being used by some retailers. Chemist shops, for example are providing something similar to us. You ring in your prescription and they will make it up and leave it in a coded post box for you to pick up outside. People are getting used to this contactless way of living.”
Noel is continuing to develop the automated external system as a commercial product for wholesalers. “We will provide an external installation of between four-to-eight electronically coded lockers for wholesalers to install outside their premises. The wholesaler then issues key fobs to their clients who can access the box and lift their goods out-of-hours or when they want to avoid queuing at the trade counter.
Noel concludes, “Covid-19 has disrupted normal working processes and systems throughout our industry. We have to rethink how we do things. I am hopeful that the take-up of automated order and collection systems will be a positive legacy.”
EJ Harper & Co Ltd, 34 Montgomery Rd, Castlereagh, Belfast BT6 9HL
T: 0044 (0)28 9079 2155