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By Arthur Goldstuck


Tree Sweets app fills gap of online grocery delivery services

The Covid-19 lockdown has given an unexpected boost to one of the most complex forms of ecommerce, boosting grocery apps in SA.

Who would have thought that videos of crowds in supermarkets would be a new form of horror movie?

Many people have no choice but to go to the supermarkets to buy essentials, but the crowds in supermarkets tell us we are seeing a “life-as-normal” attitude. This is as much the case in low-income areas as in affluent suburbs.

For the latter, there truly is no excuse: telephonic and online grocery ordering and delivery services have exploded into the national consciousness in recent weeks.

Traditionally the most difficult form of ecommerce, due to having to maintain the “cold chain” from supermarket to home fridges, it is now suddenly the only form of ecommerce in South Africa.

As a result, we are seeing the biggest ever spike in online shoppers. However, this is also exposing the weaknesses of the existing players in this market – and opening opportunities to the agile entrepreneur.

Take Cindy Poluta, a sports broadcaster. For several years, she has had the idea of starting a service to supply fruits and vegetables to homes and offices. She began having the app developed in November, and the service was ready to launch last month – just as lockdown began. Suddenly, she had to change her entire business model.

“I was going to mainly supply offices in the Sandton CBD,” she says. You could order your fruits and vegetable for home from Tree Sweets and have it delivered to your office on a certain day.

“By the time the app was finished being developed, by the time I got the bank accounts, the Payfast account, everything going, it went live, and suddenly everybody went into lockdown.

“I had no option but to offer home delivery because of the costs involved in having an app and having a Shopify store, and so on. Those are quite expensive and they charge you in dollars.

“I just decided to try Linden and surrounds, because I live in Linden. People have loved it. I’m delivering daily, and I’m really grateful to everybody for their support.”

It helps that her husband is a wholesaler who supplies fruit and vegetables to retail outlets like Spar and Pick n Pay – and is her wholesale supplier, too. This allows her to supply her customers either more cheaply or as competitively as the major supermarkets.

“He custom-makes my orders for me, so he charges me what he would charge retailers, and I get a delivery daily to my house.

“At first, I was doing the deliveries myself in my car, which has been an adventure. Now we are partnering with Uber Eats, and you should find Tree Sweets on the Uber Eats app. It definitely is a service that I’d like to offer after the lockdown because I do think people have seen the value.”

Ironically, the big retailers have given entrepreneurs like Poluta a massive gap to fill by not being able to scale up sufficiently to meet the demand, and limiting their delivery areas to the surrounds of specific stores.

Pick n Pay and Woolworths have been unable to scale up their fulfilment capacity to meet short-term lockdown needs, and tend to rely on smaller players who pick up groceries in their stores to meet the demand.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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