Online grocery shopping platform BulkWhiz, launched in April 2017, serves over 40,000 households in the UAE, easing grocery shopping experience with technology. As the name suggests, BulkWhiz specialises as a go-to destination for those who are keen to do their grocery shopping online in bulk, while availing discounted prices.
BulkWhiz focuses on items that are bulk-friendly, ones that consumers don’t want to run out of or carry around, such as water, detergents, diapers and even fruits and vegetables, among others. The platform offers dynamic pricing, a first-of-its-kind in the region. What that means is if a customer buys one item, it is at market price. If they add a second one, the price per unit automatically goes down. The BulkWhiz model enables customers to get better value as they buy more.
Having lived in the US for a long time, BulkWhiz CEO, Rashad moved to the Middle East in 2010 and quickly recognised a gap in the market. There was no organised online platform that allowed people to do their grocery shopping in bulk while availing discounted prices. “I wanted technology to ease grocery shopping experience so that families can spend quality time with each other as opposed to doing grocery.”
Online grocery shopping is nascent
Commenting on the size of the online grocery market in the Middle East and growth potential in the near term, Rashad says it is a $175 billion-worth market. Grocery shopping accounts for a third of disposable household income in the region, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia being the two biggest markets.
“Before the surge in online grocery shopping amidst COVID-19 pandemic, it only accounted for 1-2% of overall grocery shopping,” she shares. “Overall, globally, online grocery shopping is still at a nascent stage. In developed markets, online grocery shopping accounts for around 8-10%. The category, as such, has been a laggard globally. However, growth in online grocery shopping has been fast, off a small base. There are several reasons why the category has been a laggard. The logistics and complications around delivering a service like a grocery, has been a challenge in this region. Even the big players did not take online grocery seriously until recently. Most of them have a stronger store network, and it has taken a while for them to realise that the consumer behaviour shift requires change.”
Rashad also points towards yet another issue when it comes to the actual nature of only grocery shopping experience.
“Almost 98% of products sold online in the region still consists of electronics and fashion items. These items are completely different in their purchase profiles. Consumers will probably buy electronics and fashion products maximum four times in a year. Compare this with online grocery shopping that happens 52 times in a year, on average, with the consumer purchasing 50-60 items each time for a family of four. Hence, the online experience that exists today is not built for grocery,” she explains.
Creating a personalised experience
The online grocery shopping experience must be personalised, reflecting the consumption profile of the whole family.
“The ability to personalise online grocery shopping, streamlining it in a manner where it becomes much quicker on a more frequent basis, did not exist even until a year and a half ago. Most of the e-commerce players focused on the bigger categories with higher ticket size. But now, I think, it is time that the online experience is made conducive to the nature of grocery shopping,” Rashad suggests.
Personalisation, using artificial intelligence (AI), is an area that BulkWhiz focused on right from the beginning, therein creating an experience uniquely tailored to online grocery shopping based on consumption patterns. It helps BulkWhiz to curate better promotions for its customers. “We built our offering on a data frame foundation; so, we collect data and allow the algorithms to learn from the data. It is a continuous learning process, tweaking the experience according to customer preferences,” she explains.
Dramatic change in consumer behaviour
BulkWhiz recorded a seven-fold increase in sales in March 2020 versus the same period last year. Categories like hand sanitisers, face masks and cleaning items saw a surge in the 1000% range. People increased bulk purchases of toilet paper, kitchen towel, water, rice, pasta and other staples. “This surge was due to the unique circumstances – curfews, lockdowns, movement restrictions,” says Rashad.
Having said that, she feels that there is a dramatic and tangible change happening in consumer behaviour with regard to online grocery shopping that will have a long-lasting impact.
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“Once there is an adoption of a certain type of behaviour in mass, it continues, if it is convenient. In this case, grocery shopping tends to be frequent and is a necessity. People are going to realise how convenient it is for them to do so online in the long-term. It is especially so in the UAE, and the GCC since a majority of the population is young and ‘digital natives’ who are now becoming heads of households. They will be keen to outsource chores, like grocery shopping, especially if they believe it adds to the quality of their life in the long-term. The current circumstances are only contributing to a mass trial. If the existing players can offer convenience, there will be longer-term adoption of online grocery shopping,” Rashad observes.
Facilitating convenient and seamless experience
In order to offer convenience, along with product availability and the ease of shopping online, timely delivery is pivotal. Since BulkWhiz owns its last mile, it is a huge advantage.
“Think about it, when I am touching my consumers’ lives 52 times in a year, they must like the experience. Otherwise, they will not transact with us repeatedly. We work hard to create an end-to-end, seamless, delightful and reliable experience for our customers – directly sourcing from manufacturers and distributors, picking and packing the products and doing doorstep delivery keeping in mind customer preferences,” Rashad elaborates.
While the platform offers a next day delivery promise, fulfilment was challenged especially during the lockdown period. “Surge in online orders put a lot of pressure on our existing capacity, even though we have dynamic slot allotment,” she admits. “We moved into a three times bigger facility, compared to our previous one, to accommodate more orders and maintain fulfilment timelines. We have also ramped up customer service by hiring more people to serve our customers better. Going forward, we are looking at expansion in the GCC – with Saudi Arabia high on our list – and beyond.”
Another unique feature of BulkWhiz is that 85-90% of the payments are via cards. It is even before contactless payment was being encouraged. “In fact, for almost 18 months since launch, we didn’t even offer the cash on delivery option,” Rashad shares. “We are now working with Apple Pay to facilitate contactless payment further.”
There’s massive growth potential
In summation, when asked if the competition is heating up in the online grocery segment, Rashad observes, “Everybody is welcome to play when you have a market worth $175 billion. There is a substantial white space. The task, therefore, is not to compete but do an excellent job of serving customers, so they transition from offline to online, much faster, and stay longer.”
The idea is to build the right experience from platform and customer service perspectives to be able to serve customers for a whole lifetime, she concludes.