In a trip to Dubai in August 2017, we learnt that Géant hypermarket at Ibn Battuta shopping mall had been operating grocery e-commerce orders for 5 years and they fulfilled 100 – 200 daily orders with printed Excel files!
We had been defining e-commerce fulfilment operations for grocery and non-food, mainly electronics, but we couldn’t imagine a process with such volume without barcode scanners.
We managed to get there after finishing all work meetings our last afternoon in the country. Mr. Muhammad Ahmed Bilal, head of e-commerce, waited for our arrival and guided us through the operation. He was very kind in spite of it was Thursday and his workday was finished. In UAE, Thursday afternoon is similar to Friday afternoon in Western countries and Sunday is a working day.
If you are not familiar with grocery e-commerce, average orders in Europe can range 50-80 products with a total weight between 20-50 kg. Hypermarkets in Europe order volume usually ranges between 50 and 300 daily orders, as city demand is usually concentrated in few hypermarkets to make it economical. In the Emirates, many citizens buy at least a 15kg pack of rice a week. The assortment range is wider than in Europe, as there are big populations from very different cultures buying at the same hypermarket.
Although we usually work for big companies, we have also advised start-ups with small volumes. Start-ups initially work on paper while they discover their business model and get the money to invest in operations. However, this was our first time at a manual high-volume operation.
We found an amazing, organized and smooth operation based on printed Excel worksheets! Orders were downloaded from the website to Excel and filtered. Supervisors selected a group of orders, split them by hypermarket zone, sorted by product and printed the “picking list”. They split picking work among several operators per zone. Pickers collected items for all orders with a standard shopping cart.
Pickers brought their full carts to the consolidation area where products were sorted and packed in plastic bags following the printed list per order. Dry items were placed inside numbered colored crates. Operator wrote the corresponding crates’ color and number in the printed order. This list was given to the transport company sorted by delivery slot so they could find the containers following the colors and numbers. They also used numbered isotherm bags which were placed in the chiller or in the freezer.
We were very lucky to watch it that way. Mr. Bilal told us that he had planned a project to introduce barcode scanners. Géant activities had recently been acquired by Majid Al Futtaim Retail, which operates Carrefour in Middle East, part of Africa and part of Asia. We will be able to watch this operation again in some months, but this time it will run with the highest IT standards.