Saving Retailer Costs by Streamlining Regional Returns

We were approached by a national retailer to help with an inefficient accounting process. This company had started out in the UK only but has been expanding in recent years with offices in much of Europe. The initial European office was taken on through a business acquisition and used different software from the UK business with monthly returns being encrypted and sent by email each month from the European offices to HQ.

The Brief

As the number of European offices increased, the effort taken to handle the files increased exponentially until it took three people over two days each month to process the returns. We were asked to find a solution that could automate this process and increase security at the same time.

The Process

The first step was to understand what was being sent, why and how. We initially worked with the UK sales team to see how the UK system was being used, then with one of the European offices to see the processes they followed. There was a very tight budget for this project and we minimised costs by holding remote video-conference and screen-sharing sessions wherever possible.

The European offices were manually exporting returns in CSV, converting the currency into Euros where necessary, encrypting them using a free compression tool and e-mailing the returns. The UK office in turn decrypted the files, converted the currency into GBP, typed summaries into the local system and manually checked the data for duplicates, etc. The extensive manual nature resulted in a variety of errors from duplicate returns, missed returns, incorrect currency conversions and so on.

"our manual processes not only take too long but inevitably introduces errors - we are deeply concerned that there are errors we do not know about..."

The next step for us was to secure access to test copies of the system used - we were able to use trial versions for these purposes - and see how much of the process could be automated. We gave our client a number of options that offered differing degrees of saving, recommending middle-ware that would fully automate the process and flag any issues to the accounts team. 

"The Peak Consultancy have been great in working with our existing suppliers"

Our client selected the middleware option and we commissioned one of our technology partners to build it, taking the hassle away from the client. The system was developed as a web application hosted by our technology partner. The provider of the European office software agreed to update it to save files to a secure web service; the middle-ware then applied the currency conversions, merged the returns from each office, checked for common errors and saved two files for the UK team: one with the corrected returns and one with the errors that would need manual review. 

"... the new system even shows the results to the European offices ... [it was] simply not possible for them to check the returns before"

The Result

The middle-ware was delivered and installed within three months of our first visit to the UK offices. We worked through the initial teething troubles in the first monthly return and, the next month, the full return was completed by one member of staff in around half a day. The projected savings over three years, including all development and support costs, was nearly £0.5M plus the additional benefit of freeing up for the accounts team.

"... not only has the new process saved us money; we are also much more confident in both security and accuracy."

Lessons

Digital transformation does not always mean major change

Sometimes it is the little things that count. Many of our case studies cover periods of significant change but this one nicely illustrates that taking an outside look and refining a single broken process can make a huge difference. A very low investment unplugged a bottle-neck and resulted in disproprtionately large knock-on benefits across the rest of the business.

If you have a bottle-neck that needs to be removed, we would love to help - please get in touch using the link below.

 

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