Customer Stories

Zona Sul’s innovative culture is accelerating the future of grocery shopping in Brazil

Gabriela Porto
Gabriela Porto May 27, 2021
Zona Sul’s innovative culture is accelerating the future of grocery shopping in Brazil

The year is 1999 and the “Y2K problem” is looming over everyone’s minds. “What will happen when we get to 2000?”. Zona Sul, a family-owned grocery retail chain from Rio de Janeiro, was not scared, but hopeful for that future. 

In that same year, it delivered its first online order that could be placed via floppy disk in a computer available at a closed gated community in Rio. Much different than today: placing an order can literally be done in the palm of your hand. One thing hasn’t changed, though: Zona Sul’s thirst for innovation and its goal to stay close to its customers and positively impact the grocery market, all while raising the bar for its competitors.

“Being disruptive, in its most literal sense, is being different. I think that is in our veins. We aim to deliver the best and most distinctive service to the client.”

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

With over 60 years of history, Zona Sul has been on a 20-year long digital transformation journey, being the first supermarket to implement ecommerce in Brazil and continuing to establish new milestones when it comes to online grocery retail technology. As online shopping frequency increases, especially in the current pandemic state, retailers are looking for more out-of-the-box solutions that add to a personalized online client experience while developing a relationship with the customer, something that Zona Sul has been betting on since day one. That’s where its digital disruption comes in.

The future of grocery shopping is now

Rapidly changing consumer behavior and the accelerating growth of digital retailing forced the future to arrive a little bit earlier than expected, but Zona Sul is welcoming this opportunity with arms wide open. As it was said before, its disruptive culture is what puts the grocery chain in the spotlight. 

The migration to online shopping has been identified as one of the top trends impacting customer behavior for grocery retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers. According to a report by McKinsey Company, online growth skyrocketed but it could have been higher if there was enough supply available for the high demand. Even through shortages and digital challenges, the main objective is reaching out to customers in the most innovative ways, acquiring brand strength and sales growth.

Here is how Zona Sul has been handling things so far.

Outsourcing an ecommerce platform to focus in digital growth and innovation

Since January 2020, Zona Sul has shifted from its own ecommerce platform and decided to outsource that work, choosing VTEX as a partner. The main objective was to relocate efforts being put in the website and app creation so it could  focus on what executives believe to be Zona Sul’s core, retail. What brought Zona Sul and VTEX together was VTEX’s agility in solving everyday problems: using a composable approach with VTEX as a front-end provider, it was effortless to find back-end solutions that matched  Zona Sul’s grocery retail needs.

“VTEX makes it easier to leverage our ecosystem in a supportive way. We can implement and build the structure of different features, like our rewards program and our new CRM integration.”

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

By outsourcing this work, Zona Sul could concentrate its efforts in driving even more innovation to its business and the grocery industry as a whole. Some of those initiatives are below. 

The voice of the future is the voice of Zona Sul’s carioca heart

“Alexa, add raspberry jam to my cart!” “Ok, adding raspberry jam to your cart.” 

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it: when it comes to creativity and disruption, the sky is not the limit for Zona Sul. An Alexa and Google Home integration is already available for customers and, just like that, Zona Sul becomes the first Brazilian grocery store to implement voice commerce. Another win for them!

“I think this integration changes a lot of the concept interaction of Alexa and grocery retailers. Today we are working on notifications but tomorrow we want to do more than that. Hopefully, by pulling this off we can make it into a global success case story.”

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

While not yet perfect, the feature is a great starting point towards the future: voice technology. Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortana… It’s a voice assistants world and we’re living on it (and for it). According to a NPR and Edison Research Report, 60 million adults in the U.S. own at least one smart speaker. That’s 54% of the population and, of those, 24% say they use voice activated devices on a daily basis. Besides that, wearesocial’s Digital 2020 April Global Statshot Report showed that smart speakers device usage time has increased in 11% since COVID-19’s outburst.

Understanding how important embracing this movement and momentum is becomes the key to enter a new frontier and reshape how customers and brands can experience a multidevice and multichannel shopping opportunity.

Being able to add to the week’s shopping cart, even when you don’t have a phone, or even reciting it while taking a look at the pantry or refrigerator creates a frictionless and smooth multi-channel transition. This way, grocers are able to retain customers through experience and relationship, and at the same time increase sales and rates.

This integration goes beyond a sales and growth decision: it’s also a branding move. Not many grocers, and even businesses from other industries, are in the voice assistant’s realm; by doing so, it affects how brands are positioned in the market. Having the customer perceiving brands as avant-garde, technology friendly and disruptive is a great way to consolidate the businesses of the future.

Intelligent search engines to create a personalized shopping experience

Intelligent search is a magic tool of ecommerce. By using customer data and analysing their buying patterns, grocery online shopping experiences become quicker and easier each time. And that brings the client back — why would they look for another grocer when they have a great experience and find everything they’re looking for? Plus, an intelligent search engine can also suggest new products, creating a cycle of discovery for customers that are accessing the website for the first time or coming back.

But search functionalities don’t stop there. Zona Sul also partnered with Google to add the Voice and Photo Intelligent Search to the app, with the Google Lens feature.

It works simply: need more milk? Just take a picture of the empty bottle you have at home and, bam!, it is added to your cart. Just like that, you are shopping from the comfort of your pantry or your kitchen. If you don’t feel like typing, just press the microphone and the app will understand what you want, immediately. Whatever way you prefer.

Apart from working digitally, this also works as an integration between physical and online stores. In-store and want to know more about any product? Take a picture of it with the Zona Sul mobile app and get information about origin, details on content and even suggestions of other similar and complementary products. That’s another step of the grocery on transparency, giving customers’ all the information they want. 

It is a practical solution, but it also is an accessible feature, helping those who have a hard time typing or using technology in general to get them closer as an ecommerce customer. This reinforces Zona Sul’s commitment to being an online company available for all, including those customers who have been faithful clients since before computers were a thing.

“This feature is inclusive for young people who are used to the image and voice search as an easy outlet and for older people who have trouble while typing, for example. So, why not do your grocery shopping list by voice?”

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

Drones: taking grocery delivery to the next level

Automated grocery delivery is the closest we get to futuristic movies. A robot delivering groceries around town? Sounds like something straight out of the Back To The Future franchise. 

Much like the Alexa and Google Home voice integration service, drone delivery comes as a branding strategy and also as a way to bring grocer and brands closer. In December 2020, another gated community received the drone delivery unique service for the first time. It was a result of Zona Sul’s partnership with giant brewery Ambev that had an automated car that delivered customer orders inside that same condo. 

“Being narrowed with the industry is extremely important because it has been trusting our projects and ideas. This belief is crucial because we also get support and contribution from them.”

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

Because of legislation rules, Zona Sul is still figuring out drone delivery expansion to Rio de Janeiro streets. Meanwhile, it is acting in different closed gated communities filled with its target audience as an expanding branded strategy. And, of course, it keeps looking for other innovations that can be put in place.

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