Can this startup CEO 'uberise' grocery shopping in the UAE?

Raj Lee has a dream: to make shopping for groceries as convenient as can be. Next month, the CEO plans to launch an app and make it a reality
Can this startup CEO 'uberise' grocery shopping in the UAE?
By Shayan Shakeel
Mon 17 Sep 2018 04:38 PM

The idea of Bawiq came from personal frustration Raj Lee faced when trying to order groceries. The existing options to order sundries through the internet were “difficult to navigate” and left him disheartened at, “Why a simple grocery order couldn’t be delivered in two days and yet incur a surcharge.” When he did manage to find services that worked via an app, and promised a one hour delivery window, lo and behold, Lee’s residence was not in their covered remit.

That’s when Lee decided it was time to tackle the problem himself. The solution could only involve a grocery store that promised delivery within a reasonable amount of time, to any location, and most importantly, made it convenient to place orders over an app. There’s been a lot to learn about the business and creating a service that will have an impact in the market, but the entrepreneur of the UAE’s latest app-based grocery shopping platform, Bawiq, tells CEO Middle East, that he believes he’s found the fix.

There seems to be a bit of delivery service revolution right now, however user experience continues to lag on a number of platforms. How are you working to make Bawiq convenient to use?

There is no doubt that the proliferation of order-and-pay mobile delivery apps is spurring the on-demand delivery revolution. We believe this shift of preference in the typical traditional walk-in customer set-up is, of course, inevitable. For app-based delivery services, in this day and age, a user’s first impression through first time experiences lasts, and translates into loyalty. We built the app around our customers’ needs and zoomed in from all angles to ensure we minimise the number of steps required to get groceries delivered. For instance, our app is armed with GPS location services, immediately skipping any requirement to identify Emirate, area, residential building etc. The app also uses complex algorithms to calculate product availability, proximity etc and determine how an order is placed and dispatched from a customer to a store. With such features embedded within the app, the customer only has to go three steps from ordering to payment. In addition for payment ease we offer cash on delivery, credit/debit cards, and an in-app wallet. The app will also be continuously updated with additional functions based on customer feedback to create a superior shopping experience.

Are there any insights you’ve gained in terms of what consumers are looking for when ordering groceries via an app?

As a consumer myself, placing an order for grocery products involves looking for available options in the app, the time it takes to reach me, as well as the accuracy of items delivered. These are the major things to consider. To ensure customer satisfaction, our app features a robust back of house mechanism to minimise out-of-stock items and incorrect delivery incidents. This is why we provide each supermarket with a tablet that operates our retail module, incorporating a full, backend inventory stock management system.

How should we expect to see Bawiq progress over the next few months?

Bawiq will officially launch on 30 September, but we have already signed up with over 900 supermarkets, providing us 100%coverage across mainlaind Abu Dhabi, surrounding areas and 80% coverage across Dubai. We are now signing stores in the rest of the Emirates and expect to have a minimum of 80% coverage of key areas of the UAE by the fourth quarter of 2018.

Some businesses say returns are a persistent issue when delivering goods that customers haven’t checked in store. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Return policies will always be a persistent issue in any business organisation. However, we believe that by implementing a strong quality control mechanism and perpetual retailer training, we can significantly reduce customer returns and build customer confidence. Additionally, as we are dealing with daily grocery products, we expect that these issues with goods being returned, if any, would be minimal and genuine in nature, for which the respective retailers will deal with customers as they usually do.

Are there any goods that you feel customers would continue to prefer purchasing instore?

We believe perishable items such as fruits, vegetables and meats are very subjective, and preferences differ across customers based on a number of variables. Hence, we expect that most consumers would still prefer to buy such items during their weekly visit to a hypermarket. Nonetheless, we at Bawiq, do have plans for these segments in the future.

How do you keep your own delivery/staffing costs down given the volume of transactions?

While keeping staffing costs down is ideal, we don’t believe in compressing them but rather, having the right cost to income ratio that ensures company sustainability. To ensure maximum efficiency in our delivery cycle, we believe that we must manage at source ie, strong picking accuracy and timely deliveries. This will reduce returns and order cancellations.

Is there room for expanding beyond your current scope of operations? What are some challenges you expect to overcome in this pursuit?

Definitely. We are already working on a number of verticals that we want to add to our app over the next few quarters. Our greatest challenge, at the moment,  is to get service providers and suppliers to provide the facilities needd in order for us to implement these programs.

What is the most important employee/staff related decision you’ve had to make at Bawiq?

We believe that we can only reach our growth aspirations through having the right team in place. At Bawiq, we believe in empowering our employees, creating a road map for each individual’s career growth and remunerating our staff through innovative achievement programs. Our hiring program is unlike any other in the market. We even created a video to source the right candidate for the role of a digital manager.

Is creative decision making more important in your line of work or creating SOPs for everyone to adhere to?

Without a doubt, it is paramount that the right standard operating procedures are put in place, not only to ensure that we provide our customers with the highest levels of customer service, but also to support our retailers in achieving greater sales and profit margins. However, as we are a new company, it is also essential that we continue to find innovative ways to stand out in the market and offer more than our competitors, which is where we believe creative decision making comes in to play.

What is the key to retaining customers on your app?

Bawiq is built on putting our customers first and we believe that creating an app that is fast, simple to use, intuitive to our customers’ needs and constantly evolving to their requirements, are all key components to building our customer base. Our app uses several smart features such as GPS location services, delivery scheduling, favourite grocery list, family accounts and even the ability to save your preferred delivery locations. We want to make paying for your groceries simple as well which is why offer such a wide array of payment options. To support our customers who are parents, we have built a Family Account option to help them manage their children’s grocery spend and monitor their children’s purchases. In addition to this we have an innovative algorithm system that ensures that the products ordered are allocated to the nearest supermarket with stock availability.

Furthermore, we are conscious and committed to protecting the environment. Sustainability is part of everything we do. When customers place orders through Bawiq, they are also taking part in being environmentally responsible as all orders will be delivered in reusable and recycled bags.

Where do you see Bawiq, and yourself, in 2020?

We are currently in talks with a number of potential partners for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, aiming to have feet on the ground by the beginning of 18 November. Further to our recent press releases and media coverage, we have been approached by a number of venture capitalists who are looking to join us in our intent to break into the wider Asian market by January 2019.

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