The F&B industry is in a non-stop innovation cycle: It is marrying tech advancement to customer service to create products that bring more value to the customer. HN spoke to Wassim Makarem, vice president of regional markets and vice president of dark stores at talabat to know more about the concept of Q-commerce.
- Tell us briefly about Q-commerce and how talabat is innovating in that area?
talabat started the only Quick Commerce concept, which is more well known as q-commerce, in the MENA region during the covid-19 lockdown. It is the next-generation of e-commerce, and as the name suggests, it is all about ultra fast delivery. Q-commerce is the natural evolution of e-commerce and our talabat mart stores are our first foray into Q-commerce. The service provides groceries deliveries 24/7 within 30 minutes or less with free delivery in which we’ve invested approximately AED 65 million in the region this year alone and we aim to have larger investments in 2021.
This is a great value proposition for customers, because it means that it is quicker for them to order in, and we’ve increased variety with over 5,000 SKUs which means more selection, ease and convenience for our customers. And in order to fulfill rapid orders, we’ve had to set up t-marts in all of our markets – we have around 37 dark stores in 5 of our markets to date.
- How did COVID-19 impact your business and drive you to bring new models such as Q-commerce?
Everyone faced difficulties during COVID-19, as everyday life was severely impacted and necessities were more important than catering meals, we decided to observe the market to be able to understand the needs and trends and saw a change in consumer habits with more home-cooking and seeing a rise in demand for the best and healthiest products. As a result, grocery delivery services, such as talabat Mart have really taken off.
Q-commerce is our next play for the future of online retail, and pioneering the next phase of delivery. Q-commerce stands for quick commerce – meaning consumers enjoy ultra-fast delivery service and have goods within an hour .
Our talabat Mart store is our first foray into Q-commerce and provides groceries 24/7 and in 30 minutes or less with free delivery. As a proposition – this is valuable for customers because it means that it is quicker for them to order in than to go out – it’s all about ease and convenience for our customers.
- How do you think this business model will grow in the MENA and which markets will benefit the most?
This business model is vital in the MENA region as it’s based on customer convenience and we witnessed exponential growth with retail delivery this year. Consumers are choosing online shopping over store visits, either for their safety or by habit. The goal is not only being the safest, but also the fastest. As talabat we’ve really changed our processes, and algorithms to make sure that our customers get their order the quickest – and we continue to make amends and innovate to ensure a seamless ordering process.
- Do you think additional e-commerce concepts will be used in the food world? What are they and how will they be adapted?
Last mile delivery – is without a doubt the most expensive part of running a delivery business. It is also an artform. Making sure that our algorithms and AI are able to anticipate troughs and peaks in demand – and we are able to reroute our riders to make sure that delivery expectations and times are not only met, but exceeded – is really a challenge.
Our teams worked tirelessly to put together strategies and solutions in place – specifically when it came to logistics when it came to curfews/lockdown – to guarantee we’re fulfilling orders swiftly and safely. We introduced concepts such as last mile delivery which meant expanding delivery radius and in turn achieving more orders.
Data & Technology – talabat is using technologies such as AI in its app, primarily with services that support search, logistics and understanding consumers better by analysing purchasing behaviour. We’re also investing in the foundations of data engineering and an incredible data platform to make really hyper targeted personalisation products for our consumers. We’re fully committed to creating the best possible experience for our customers.
- Do you think F&B services with advanced tech will keep on burgeoning in the MENA?
Definitely! We see more and more players in the game everyday. The F&B sector is evolving, especially with flexible/remote working models being adopted across the region allowing our customers to order everything online. It’s all about efficiency and ease. Using tech and data to understand our customers’ needs is at the core of what we do. Everyone is digitally savvy nowadays and digital retail is easy in this part of the world, that’s why we’re constantly improving the talabat app to make it an even easier customer experience to our partners and clients.
- Would you consider working with ghost kitchens or F&B startups to keep on innovating?
Cloud kitchens are enhancing the F&B industry, bringing higher levels of efficiency in operations and menu management. Basically Cloud Kitchens allow delivery-only operations to mass populations at a fraction of the cost – and the contribution of every kitchen to GDP is more than AED 2 million yearly. We’re pioneers in that field and we’re soon launching our first talabat cloud kitchen facility in UAE in line with COVID-19 government restrictions and ensuring safety for our partners and customers. This means lower investment and operational cost yet more revenue for our partners, more variety to our customers, bringing more businesses with higher efficiency to the country by being an entry point.
Cloud kitchens are just one part of an entire e-commerce ecosystem that is heavily supported by UAE leadership through various initiatives and that has been further propelled forward by the recent pandemic. Being part of Delivery Hero, talabat has access to global best practices, which we leverage in existing infrastructure optimizing operations, experiences and foster economic growth whilst making food delivery service even more efficient and nimble. Focused on, and optimised for, deliveries, the talabat cloud kitchen adapts to demand trends – shoring up products that are highly sought-after – and in doing so, also reducing waste.
At Expo 2020, talabat will launch a tech-driven cloud kitchen, featuring an assortment of restaurants serving freshly prepared food. Visitors can try cuisines from around the world and expect ultra-fast and eco-friendly delivery, reflecting Expo 2020’s sub-themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability.
- Where do you see your business going?
We’re in a fast growing and a fast moving industry, and it’s really up to us to be the pioneers and pace-setters in the MENA region. Every day we focus more on the customers. Win hearts and minds. If you win the hearts and minds of your customers, then your business will continue to flourish. If we look at talabat as a business and its future:
We’re focusing our efforts on Q-Commerce so increasing talabat mart and dark stores into our other markets, investing in AI and data analytics to operate predictive models. That’s a very important point as we are first and foremost a tech company, we have the biggest tech team in the region with over 200 (Tech and Product) experts working to improve our services.
Fintech is also an important arm of talabat – we’ve recently partnered with Mastercard to fully digitise its payment chain within our ecosystem across all the brands in MENA. By enabling secure digital payments, this will lead to superior consumer experience and financial security for our stakeholders (customers, riders and restaurants) by spearheading growth of digital inclusion across the region and additionally drive operational efficiencies across our platform.
We are working hard to be more sustainable – and have various projects as I’ve spoken about – and then last but not least, at some point they’ll be drone delivery. That could be a long way off, but it’s definitely not something we’re discounting!
And last but not least, we are also looking at international expansion opportunities, we’ve just rebranded in Egypt and look to expand in many cities by onboarding 20,000 new restaurants. We’ve also announced our operations in Iraq a few weeks ago which will begin in January 2021. So we’re definitely excited to hopefully move into new markets and as evidenced our previous MD of the UAE, Muhammed Yildirim, has now taken on an International Expansion role. It’s definitely exciting for talabat!