Disrupting the Grocery Industry, One App at a Time


The grocery industry is ripe for disruption. Giants like Walmart, Amazon, and Alibaba have shaken up the competitive retail landscape. Customers have embraced new technology and new ways to shop. All this has happened in a very short timespan, and supermarkets are still reacting to a brave new world of online and app-based shopping.

It's too late to put the genie back into the bottle. There's no other way to put it: Grocers must adapt or die. Supermarkets—at least the old-fashioned kind—are good at following trends, but they're not so good at setting them. They know how to stock their shelves and get customers into their brick-and-mortar locations. However, they lack expertise in technology and digital innovation.

Adopting an App Space Mindset

Building an e-commerce website or entering the app space is not as easy as it seems. It's not just a matter of creating a database, putting your inventory online, and then adding a shopping cart. Brand recognition and convenience are not enough to drive customers to your digital storefront. You need to know how to craft a compelling user experience. Then you have to keep refreshing it to ensure your customers come back.

There’s more to ecommerce than creating a database, putting your inventory online, and then adding a shopping cart. @Grability

It takes a specific mindset to do this. Just as you would in retail, you have to understand your customer. You need to analyze pains and gains, and establish a value proposition. You have to do this iteratively, over time. Then you launch your website or your app, and you keep iterating. You collect feedback, and continue to retool, adding capacity over time. It's a task that never ends.

As you can see, the foundation of this process is old-fashioned marketing, but its execution requires a developer’s touch. This is where Grability comes in. We bridge the gap between the marketing mindset of the traditional grocery industry and the technical expertise of the startup space.

Reinventing Online Shopping

Grability is reinventing mobile shopping with a white-label solution that brings the in-store experience to shoppers. We partner with grocers to help them transition into the app space.

I've been with Grability for the past four years. Originally, I was brought on by our two co-founders, Sebastian Mejia and Simon Borrero, and became CEO after they left to form Rappi—Colombia’s first Unicorn, that started based on Grability technology. Grability has had tremendous success in the Latin American market, Europe and New Zealand and is now expanding into other markets around the world. 

To give you an idea of Grability's potential, you only have to look at the success of Rappi, which is a lot like Instacart on steroids. Using Grability technology, they created an app-based marketplace for supermarkets, drugstores, and restaurants. Orders are sent out within minutes using a crowd-sourced delivery model.

Rappi went on to become the biggest startup in Latin American history, and just recently secured another round of funding from major VCs and angel investors. As you can see, the potential for the Grability platform is limitless.

Rock Stars Need to Shine

To better understand what we do, let me tell you about a recent conversation with one of our clients. We were trying to renegotiate our contract when they asked, "Why don't you help us recruit developers to work in-house?" They wanted us to provide a roadmap and let them create a shopping app on their own.

I was honest and blunt in my reply. "Where do you think the best people are?" I asked. "Where are the best developers, designers, and UX directors? They're not at Target or Kroger. They work for Amazon and Uber." These people are rock stars who aren't looking at traditional career paths. They want the excitement of startup and tech culture. They crave the financial rewards and the tech industry is bending over backwards to recruit them. Old-school companies don't have the money or the mindset to attract these people.

Even if they did find the money to hire such capable individuals, they would lose them within six months. Old businesses thrive on stability. Startups thrive on disruption. Rock stars and ninjas are easily bored. They move on if you don't feed them challenge after challenge.

At Grability, we provide an environment that allows top talent to shine. Then we put their skills to work for our retail clients. Our biggest success so far was helping Walmart Mexico retool their existing app. As you may already know, Walmart is not only the world's biggest retailer, they're also a major player in the grocery industry. 

Building a Living, Breathing App

When we first started to work with Walmart, they had a mobile app—called Superama—for their Mexican grocery chain. It had been live for about five years. The company had positioned it, and had built up a regular clientele and a steady sales volume. But the whole thing was stagnant. We worked with Walmart to change their speed of innovation and to help them build a customer-centric mindset.

Walmart wasn’t delivering new value to the market. They weren't asking themselves how to innovate and capture new customers. Grability helped them understand that ecommerce is not a silver bullet. You don't put out an app, leave it there, and expect it to target customers for you.

Superama was a static app that had seen a few incremental changes over the course of its five-year lifespan. We transformed it into a living, breathing entity we update every two or three weeks. We are always tweaking the UX, and finding innovative ways to present products.

Through our expertise, we were able to change Walmart's mindset. The company is now actively engaging customers and reacting to the way users are interacting with the app. They were even among the winners of the App Store's "Best of 2017." 

Defying Conventional Wisdom

Another success story is the I shop New World app we developed for Foodstuffs in New Zealand. Unlike Walmart, they didn't have a digital sales presence at all. When we got there, they were piloting a proof of concept ecommerce website, but they put it off and focused on launching their app instead.

You hire architects and engineers to build your brick-and-mortar store. Shouldn’t you do the same for your app-based store?

The impact of the mobile platform was immediate. Orders and customer engagement shot through the roof. Faced with such a success, it made sense to shift all their attention to the app. The move seemed counterintuitive: No one in this industry starts with mobile and then moves to the web. It's supposed to go the other way, but it was hard to argue with the results. 

Foodstuffs is a perfect example of disruption in the grocery industry, or in any other industry, for that matter. There is no longer a right way to do it. You have to keep innovating and respond to customer feedback. You need to stay ahead of the curve by embracing change.

Adding a Local Context to Global Trends

Right now, we have customers on three different continents. There are some regions of the world that are still new to us, and we want to expand into these territories. Grability has an outstanding value proposition: We help our customers make the best of global trends in e-commerce, mobile apps, and the startup space. We then add a local context.

To succeed in the retail app space, you need to give a local context to global trends.

As a Latin American operation, we understand the importance of integrating regional and cultural nuances into our customer's apps. We've seen multinationals fail in South America because they had no understanding of how local consumers think. In some ways, we are outsiders on the global market, and that gives us an edge.

As Grability continues to grow, we want to strengthen our ability to act as business partners for retailers. We’ll continue to offer an end-to-end approach and be present over the entire customer lifecycle. With this in mind, we are working on customer-facing and transactional products. We’ve expanded our portfolio with SaaS (Software-as-a-Service ) solutions and integration components adding value to traditional retailers and new business models alike. We want to tackle the entire retail ecosystem.

My final message to supermarkets and other retailers is that they don't have to dgo it alone. If they want to capture the new digitally-engaged consumer, sustain, and maintain their customer base, they have a partner in Grability. We'll help them adopt the mindset they need to compete in the app space, and our coders, designers, and UX directors will do the heavy lifting.

Think of it this way: When you build a new store or a new corporate HQ in the real world, you don't do it yourself. You hire architects, engineers, and interior designers. The app space is no different. Figure out where you excel and find the right partners for the rest. That’s the winning formula.