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What is DX promoted by Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan? Introducing digital initiatives in the rapidly changing commercial front line.

December 22, 2021

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In recent years, the use of digital technology is accelerating, drastically changing our lives and the way we do business. As a diversified beverage company, Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan strives to deliver not only safe products, but also to promote DX to advance drastic business transformation for speedy response to the diversified needs of our customers.

In this article, we introduce DX initiatives in the commercial field that make use of digital systems and technology systems and technology as below.


1. SFA (Sales Force Automation)

SFA is a sales support system designed to increase/improve sales productivity. It is used daily by sales representatives in the respective channels - vending machines, chain stores (supermarkets, drugstores and discounters etc.), retail/food service (restaurants and kiosk, etc.).


Why was SFA implemented?

Founded in 2017 after the integration of 12 bottler companies in Japan, the company was initially challenged with inconsistent sales processes and information management, and needed to quickly standardize our sales activities.
Therefore, in 2017, we launched the SFA team. Employee training for companywide launch began at the end of 2018, and the system was fully launched in January 2019.


How is it utilized?

On SFA, you can plan your daily visits, manage KPIs, create a to do list to organize your tasks, and share data/negotiation details by customer, etc. There is also a chat system, allowing teams to report progress and have discussions real time.

It can be used on a PC, smartphone or tablet device. The company-leased tablet is used when out of the office or visiting customers.

Internal reactions after the launch

The introduction of SFA has not only standardized sales activities but also increased visibility and efficiency. People reported that while necessary data (KPI, to do list, customers to visit, etc.) used to be tracked on PCs or in schedule planners, SFA allowed data to be concentrated on one platform, making it easy to see the data using a simple tablet, to report/update/consult with the manager, or to share best practices, etc.


Furthermore, SFA helps to share information within teams as well as with corporate sales and sales teams in other areas, thereby contributing to stronger ties between sales organizations. Using SFA since 2019 and accumulating data has also helped to make a smooth transition to the new working style focused on working remotely, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even today, we continue to update the system to reflect the needs of the commercial front line. We are also working to enhance SFA to ensure that information required for sales activities, which is managed by a separate system, can be viewed from a single tablet device.


2. Augmented Reality

We make use of AR when proposing to install equipment such as vending machines, dispensers, coolers and racks in the respective channels.

The AR app takes a photo of the space for installing the equipment, then combines 3D images of various racks/vending machines to that photo to simulate actual installation images. This allows us to create images on the spot and show them to the customer.


Why was AR implemented?

Before AR was introduced, there were many steps involved when installing the equipment, including visiting the customer, photographing the potential location, returning to the office to create a proposal combining the on-site photo and equipment photos, then re-visiting the customer to make the proposal. In addition, there were issues such as discrepancies in the content and approach of the proposal presented by the sales representative, or the customer having difficulty imagining what the installed equipment would look like, etc., and more efficiency was needed to develop the sales space.

Thus, at the end of 2019, we tested and deployed the AR app in the Tokyo area, and full operation in all areas began in April 2020.


Installation image using AR

<Office vending machines>

<Supermarket coolers>


Internal reactions after the launch

After launching the AR app, we received comments including ease of communicating the installed image to the customer, less hassle of carrying actual racks/EQ to the customer upon proposal, convenient not only for a new installation but also when moving the EQ location, etc. It also led to operational efficiencies including reduced number of negotiations, less time needed to create the proposal, etc. as well as standardized service levels of the commercial reps.


3. Image recognition

The image recognition app was implemented to understand, maintain, and manage the display status of the sales floor (product shelf) of our customers (stores). Image recognition app recognizes the product shelf images taken on tablets and smartphones, and analyze and determine pre-registered product data to create data of our products' coverage and planogram ratio etc. If the product packaging changes, the data will be reflected in the analytical data simply by re-registering the product data and taking a photo.


Why was the image recognition app implemented?

In the past, HQ's corporate planning department had to contact the sales reps to understand how many product shelves there were in the store and how much beverage products were displayed at each shelf, and it was very time-consuming and some of the information was uncertain.

So, in order to improve execution capabilities and create visibility in the field, the image recognition app was launched in the Tokyo area from October 2019 and companywide from April 2020.


Internal reactions after the launch

With the image recognition app, it is now possible to grasp the status and performance of our product delivery more accurately and quickly. The analysis data obtained from the image recognition app is linked to SFA. This has clarified the standards for store sales activities and the next goals and actions.

In addition, by using highly accurate data for business negotiations, it has become easier to explain the distribution status to our customers and make various proposals to increase sales. This has led to new sales floor proposals. In some cases, the number of sales spaces for our products has increased by 1.5 times per store.


4. Big data/Machine learning (AI)

While this article focused on DX mainly in the OTC channel, digitalization is also advancing in the vending channel. The initiative makes use of data obtained from approx. 700,000 vending machines in our sales areas of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and 35 prefectures as big data.


Why was big data/machine learning (AI) implemented?

Since 2020, we have been building an analytical platform for the vast amounts of data collected from vending machines and practicing machine learning, and officially began using the data in our day-to-day operations in April 2021.

Traditionally, the location and product mix for vending machines were determined based on the intuition and experience of sales and operations personnel, but we are aiming to increase sales using fact-based data without preconceptions or stereotypes.


How is it used?

We build forecast models and algorithms on the big data platform using cluster analysis, etc., and various data collected from vending machines (location, hours sold, product & no. of products sold, prices, etc.) are machine (AI) captured. The AI forecast results enable more accurate analytical data such as the number of replenishments required, optimal product selection, and optimal inventory quantity for each vending machine, allowing us to offer optimal services aligned with the installed location.

In addition to the product line-up, we also use it to find potential locations for new vending machines. We created a forecast model that identifies the revenue depending on where to sell which product at what price, and built a system that shows the forecast results on a map. There was an instance in which the forecast showed a location that had never been targeted by the reps as a potential location for a new vending machine. When we actually went to the site, there was a motorcycle shop nearby, and the location was part of the route used by young motorcycle riders. It was an example of the data discovering insight not identified simply by looking at a map.

In this article, we introduced our DX initiatives in the commercial field. All of these efforts are aimed at improving the efficiency of the sales activities that support our business and responding quickly to the diversifying needs of our customers.

DX and digitalization do not see implementation as the goal, rather, they are a means to achieve our mission of delivering happy moments to everyone while creating value. We will continue to use digital technology to transform the way we sell, in order to create new values for our customers and consumers.

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