OPINION: AHEAD OF WHAT'S NEXT
At a time when online grocery has gone from cool extra to absolute necessity — pushed forward by the pandemic — food retailers of all sizes, but particularly smaller independents, are discovering the difficulties of adopting and maintaining such operations. Rahul Chabukswar, CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based e-commerce platform Homesome, has plenty of ideas on how to streamline this process for grocers – a goal stemming from the company’s beginnings.
“Homesome’s roots are in both the grocery and tech industry, which gives us a unique point of view,” recounts Chabukswar. “In 2017, after frustrating and inconsistent experiences from marketplace apps, we started operating a grocery warehouse where we picked orders and handled logistics. … Other retailers were contacting us, asking what we were doing, wanting us to deliver from their locations, too. Through these experiences, we understood how current e-commerce software isn’t built for the demands and realities facing independent grocers. That’s when we shifted Homesome to a technology provider focused on your neighborhood grocery stores.”
Homesome’s model is a flat monthly fee per store “so that grocers don’t have to give up precious percentages from their revenue,” he explains. “The more they sell, the more they get to keep. … Plus the store owns the customer relationship, experience and data, too.”
Since they own the customer data, grocers “get a clearer picture of the customer’s spending habits, product preferences and shopping frequency, making it easier to maximize marketing effects,” notes Chabukswar. “Grocers can make better business decisions from shopping data taken from the online and physical stores together, too. The goal is to help improve operational efficiency related to inventory management, even in-store product placement, which leads to a more profitable business.”
How does a grocer get started? “We train store staff to leverage the platform from start to finish, including best practices to maximize efficiency,” says Chabukswar. “Our dedicated customer support and account managers do this through a combination of documentation, online training, in-person training and seven-day-a-week support. Sessions are customized to each store’s unique workflow.”
Beyond that, through Homesome’s point-of-sale integration and proprietary predictive inventory algorithm, its store customers have a 96% found rate in their online grocery stores, according to the company. “Staying on top of their e-commerce inventory is an enormous struggle for grocers, but Homesome automates the inventory management to eliminate friction and ensure accuracy,” notes Chabukswar.
As orders come in, store employees are alerted automatically, and pick and pack items using Homescan’s iOS/Android mobile app. “With grocery-specific features such as item grouping, barcode scanning and substitutions/replacements, we make the entire process efficient, resulting in faster picking times,” says Chabukswar, who adds: “Our technology is sophisticated enough to support different buying paths. For example, orders are sent automatically to kitchen printers for time-based prep, or with Homesome Express, orders for prepared foods and drinks are sent to the kitchen and delivered in 30-45 minutes. These workflows prevent bottlenecks and eliminate human error at service counters.”
Once the orders are picked and packed, they’re scheduled and delivered automatically, employing a bag-tags system to improve accuracy. “With more than 80% of U.S. consumers covered through our partner network, the grocer doesn’t have to worry about the last-mile logistics,” asserts Chabukswar.
Even with a solution already offering so much, Chabukswar is focused on providing more.
“Everything we are building is to help independent grocers compete and thrive in the digital age,” he says. “Next, we want to enable retailers to take insights from their e-commerce business and optimize in-store operations. This unified view of what’s happening in their business helps them win, and that’s the goal.”