AT YOUR SERVICE

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kiosks and self-checkouts are two ingre-dients in Lunds' new recipe for customer service.Lunds Food Holdings is a retailer that is well known in the industry for placing a premium on customer service, in both its eight Lunds and its 12 Byerly's stores.But the company's new Lunds "Store of the Future," opened three weeks ago in Plymouth, Minn., is a proving ground for in-store technology,

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kiosks and self-checkouts are two ingre-dients in Lunds' new recipe for customer service.

Lunds Food Holdings is a retailer that is well known in the industry for placing a premium on customer service, in both its eight Lunds and its 12 Byerly's stores.

But the company's new Lunds "Store of the Future," opened three weeks ago in Plymouth, Minn., is a proving ground for in-store technology, using not only kiosks and self-checkouts, but an advanced point-of-sale system, wireless scales and automated closed-circuit television programming.

This is not technology for technology's sake, said the retailer's executives. It is all focused on improving the customers' experience in the store.

"Advances in technology put the customer in control and empowerment is the ultimate form of service," said Tres Lund, president and chief executive officer.

"We were looking for ways to provide additional services to our customers," said John Pazahanick, vice president, store development and real estate. "We felt that the way to do that was through technology. We had traveled around and saw some of the NCR applications and felt that they would work nicely in our stores," he told SN.

In a unique relationship, NCR Corp., Dayton, Ohio, and Lunds worked closely together to implement the technologies, he said.

Aside from more common systems, like time and attendance and computers that manage the operational parts of the store, there are several key components to Lunds' new prototype:

Kiosks: Six NCR kiosks are positioned throughout the store, providing general information at the entrance, expedited ordering at the deli, and information and recipes in such areas as cheese, wine, natural foods, and seafood, meat and produce.

Self-checkout: Two NCR units are at the front end and a third is positioned in the food-service area so customers with small orders won't have to go to the front checkouts during off-hours when the regular checkout station is not staffed.

Point-of-sale: The front end uses NCR's Advanced Checkout Solution, also known as "ACS," which features separate displays for the cashier and the customer, and the vendor's Dynakey keyboard.

Wireless scales: Departments around the store use the wireless Smart Touch integrated scale printer from Mettler Toledo, Columbus, Ohio, for maximum flexibility to meet changing customer demands in a busy store.

Closed-circuit TV: Computers are used to schedule the chefs' cooking demonstrations that are broadcast throughout the store. These schedules are available to customers, as are recipes and information about the chefs.

All of these technologies are being considered for rollout to other Lunds and Byerly's stores, said Pazahanick and other executives who spoke to SN in an exclusive series of interviews. Some have already been implemented elsewhere.

For instance, the ACS POS system was installed first in a two-year-old Byerly's in Maple Grove, Minn., before it was put into the Lunds Plymouth store.

"We put it in Maple Grove about four months ago so we could have some experience with the new technology and understand how it works," said Debbie Briggs, director of informational services.

"We didn't want to open a brand new store with a brand new point-of-sale system that we had never used," she said.

"We'd eventually like to roll this out to the rest of the stores, but we don't have a schedule for that yet. But our plan is to standardize on the NCR ACS system," she said.

The rest of the Lunds stores use NCR 2127 systems, while the Byerly's stores use IBM 4690 systems, said Wally Wandersee, manager of retailer systems.

Another factor in the decision to go with NCR was the relationship between NCR and Lunds' primary supplier, Supervalu, Eden Prairie, Minn., which provides for "excellent" software support, Briggs said. "So we had a comfort level," she said.

The advantages of the ACS system include fast cashier training on the Dynakey keyboard, and the ability to promote the store to customers on the display facing them at the checkout, while they see their scanned order scrolling by, she said.

It also has a ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity) compliant database, a Microsoft programming interface that makes POS data easy for the retailer to access, she said.

A high-performance, top-down scanner from NCR further addresses customer concerns, noted Dean Wold, account director for NCR based in Minneapolis.

For example, Lunds sells many prepared foods and with this scanner, the cashier does not have to move the package around to scan it, keeping the integrity of contents intact.

"The big picture is, Lunds wanted to deploy technology of providing service and an enhanced shopping experience for its customers, while giving their customers a choice," Wold said.

"We are just trying to give customers more options and greater convenience," said Michelle Croteau, Lunds' spokeswoman. "A lot of companies are trying to get on par with technology to provide greater service, and we are just trying to do that as well," she said.

The self-checkout and kiosks also are being considered for other stores. Self-checkout was also installed at the Maple Grove store before being implemented at Plymouth, Pazahanick said. Like Plymouth, there are two self-checkouts at the front end and one in the food-service area.

Lunds intends the self-checkouts to be used for smaller orders and has imposed a 25-item limit, which is largely based on the physical constraints of the units, he said. "It would be difficult to take a full cart up there," he said.

Pazahanick has been surprised so far with the diversity of customers who seem to be embracing self-checkout. "You would think they would appeal more to the younger generation, those who are more technologically savvy than the older folks. But we have people of all ages in line to use these things," he said.

For the future of self-checkout, "the plan would be to put them where they make sense and where we have seating areas. As far as using them at the front end, it is a wait-and-see," he said. But so far, customer reaction to all the new technologies has been very positive, he noted.

"It's a new store. It's something new in the marketplace. People seem to enjoy it. Some customers come to us because we are full service -- we bag, we carry out," Pazahanick said.