Boots rolls out IBM's Sales Assist iPad app to 2,500 stores

UK retailer Boots has rolled out IBM's Sales Assist iOS app across its 2,500 UK stores as part of its three-year omnichannel transformation.


Apple and IBM's MobileFirst suite of apps, launched in July 2014, involved the creation of 100 iOS apps targeting 14 industries including healthcare, banking and travel.

Sales Assist one of the apps developed exclusively for the iPhone and iPad and Boots is the first retailer to deploy the application across all UK stores.

Image: Boots
Image: Boots

Speaking at the official launch in London's White City today, director of omnichannel and development at Boots, Robin Phillips, said that in-store iPads will help generate more sales.

"What I've seen a lot of customers coming into store and saying 'have you got that and have you got this?' and collegues (Boot's staff members) say 'I'm not sure'.

"What we don’t want is customers being disappointed and coming into store and not getting what they want. So Sales Assist is the answer to this." 

The app exports product data from to iPad devices that all Boot's shop floor employees will have access to in-store.

The iPad app, powered by IBM's cloud platform Bluemix, enables staff to offer product recommendations and alert them of stock levels, product location and product alternatives over the hybrid cloud.

"It will tell the colleague whether it’s in stock or not and if it’s not, in realtime it can tell them which of the stores nearby and the colleagues can use the app to order it for the next day. And that's all part of our aim to make our customers feel good and that's what Boots is all about," says Phillips.

Apple and IBM

The two-year partnership between IBM and Apple seem somewhat odd with some questioning why IBM couldn't just produce an app for Boots without Apple’s partnership.

UK retail director at IBM, Danny Bagge expresses the benefit of using both Apple and IBM capabilities:

"What's Apple known for? Beautiful design, beautiful usability. If you have to do significant training when you take this into shops, then you've got it wrong. And what Apple do is really that," Bagge said.

"We [IBM] then gave all the other things, scaling it, working with the ecommerce systems, integrating payment."

IBM European VP, Apple partnership lead Shamayun Miah added: “There are a couple of things that Apple bring. One is the real understanding of the device and having access to the capabilities that Apple provide. Two, Apple provides us with a roadmap of iOS and they help us with that iOS roadmap.

“When you have 2.500 stores and are serving thousands of people, you want to make sure that it’s working all the time, every time. So when the new iOS upgrade comes out we will develop and release the upgrade on day zero. You only have access to that when you have that kind of relationship,” he said.

How will its success be measured?

While Phillips didn’t want to disclose any current data, he revealed the KPIs that will ultimately determine whether Sales Assist has succeeded or failed.

“On a business case level, we want to make sure we don’t disappoint customers when they come to Boots to buy something. So our main objective is conversion ratio. Did they drop out at any stage in the journey? So a big KPI for me is end to end conversion," Phillips said.

“When colleagues have started to use the app and got the customers through to the end point, the conversion rate is super high, much higher than you’d expect.

The future

Robin Phillips highlighted how the Sales Assist application is just one step in a long list of other initiatives in the pipeline for Boots over the next three years, revealing that Boots Sales Assist is just one step in a long list.

“At the moment we are trialing some new things and in some of our stores we’ve got a new beauty service called Beautiful You which will be in 57 of our store by August and 150 before Christmas,” he said.

IBM declined to comment on other UK businesses it is working to roll out Sales Assist with, but hinted that a big UK pet supplies retailer has entered into a similar partnership with IBM's MobileFirst programme.

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