Customer Stories

How Zona Sul is using ecommerce to digitally grow in grocery retail

Gabriela Porto
Gabriela Porto May 14, 2021
How Zona Sul is using ecommerce to digitally grow in grocery retail

With over 44 stores located in Rio de Janeiro’s high-end neighbourhoods and a successful grocery retail ecommerce operation, Zona Sul is a supermarket chain that offers a differentiated service to its customers by being where they are. Zona Sul has been going through a 20-year long digital transformation journey and was the first supermarket in Brazil to have an ecommerce, always positively impacting the grocery retail market. The catch is that it doesn’t want to stop there.

Grocery retail ecommerce as a priority

A few years ago, Zona Sul executives understood that the company’s in-house ecommerce platform was no longer keeping up adequately with the market and that, unless a change in mindset occurred, the company would lose ground to competitors who better embrace innovation. Fuelled by the belief that Zona Sul’s core was retail, not technology, the grocery chain decided to outsource an upgraded ecommerce platform. After all, why invest more in an internal team of twelve people when an outsourced tool, for the same price, offers you the knowledge of thousands? And that’s how Zona Sul chose VTEX as its partner in this transformation.

VTEX was the right partner to maximize something that we identified as a necessity.

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

It really was a match made in ecommerce heaven! Just like Zona Sul, VTEX is a brand born and raised in Rio. And, also like Zona Sul, VTEX is made up of professionals with such good values and a clear vision of the future.As in any good marriage, VTEX and Zona Sul have been through thick and thin together — some of the story’s highlights are below. 

Seamless plug-and-play architecture

When VTEX first got on board, the goal was increasing Zona Sul’s GMV and conversion rate through a straightforward implementation. Easy, simple and fast. Those three magical words defined the  solution that  Zona Sul needed. And that’s what it got.

Just like it happens with love at first sight, VTEX’s agility was what first caught Zona Sul’s attention and became an essential in number in the equation: using a composable approach with VTEX as a front-end provider, it was effortless to find back-end solutions that fit with Zona Sul’s grocery retail needs. Like they were made for each other.

VTEX is going to be a facilitator and not a hindrance of this entire enhancement of our ecosystem.

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

To make sure the website integration with other systems would be seamless, VTEX IO became a strong ace up Zona Sul’s sleeve because it gave the company a quick way to solve most of the implementation challenges that came up. If there was a checkout issue, for instance, it could be easily fixed through APIs along with a support team always available to help the company further.

Having the Professional Services team inside VTEX supporting us, on top of Corebiz, was a huge factor of success in bringing our vision to life.

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

But in between migrating to VTEX and building a complete new website for its customers, the pandemic hit and affected Zona Sul’s operation significantly. With lockdown policies being put in place and social distancing being encouraged, people started to avoid going to public places, which led to a  300% daily online orders increase in one week. Orders escalated and dealing with this new shift turned into a project of its own. How to maintain delivery quality and customer satisfaction in such hard times, while also juggling an ecommerce platform implementation?

The market has been changing even before the pandemic. We needed agility, disruption, innovation.

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

By that point, every change in the pandemic was reflected in a change in consumers’ behaviour, which called for a re-drawing of the future store. Zona Sul thought about postponing the project because of the rapidly-changing environment, but then it realised it needed to take the bull by the horns and anticipate the future of grocery retail in the post-pandemic scenario. By mainly using VTEX platform, which was the plug-and-play for that purpose, and the team’s expertise, Zona Sul was able to tackle the problem in a faster way. The plan was to focus on this new challenge while making best use of all the VTEX functionalities, with growth as an end goal. 

Grocery retail growth in difficult times

Today, Zona Sul offers a whole range of online services that are flexibly fulfilled through an omnichannel strategy. Grocery strategies like ship-from-store, pick-up in-store and curbside pick-up were crucial and time-sensitive, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. Having a way to add on sellers and transform the operation through a marketplace architecture, without changing much of its core, was a win in Zona Sul’s book.  

To place your order you can take your pick: there is a WhatsApp order system where you can talk to a Sales Assistant that will jot down your order, an ecommerce website for both desktop and mobile and a headless app which currently represents over half of sessions coming in.

It was a very challenging and laborious experience, but the ability to adapt was our weapon.

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

Where there is a will, there is a way and there are also results! Having gone live in December 2020, Zona Sul’s shiny new ecommerce store is now able to receive and attend thousands of orders per day with quick delivery windows that vary between two and five hours, depending on the customer’s choice and order size. In a fast-paced world where site performance is key, page loading time was reduced by 70%. Another impressive result was the conversion rate, which increased by a phenomenal 47%, as well.

The most important KPI for Zona Sul, however, is a customer happiness KPI, showcasing that improving and guaranteeing the client’s online experience is a priority. One step towards that is Zona Sul’s Carioca de Coração (Carioca at Heart), the supermarket’s rewards program that works in an omnichannel way, both digitally and in the physical store, with personalized discounts and exclusive experiences offered to consumers.

We always ask ourselves: how happy is the client? Are we giving the client what it really wants? And then, of course, what would Rio de Janeiro miss if there was no more Zona Sul?

Paulo Ballestero, Head of Digital at Zona Sul

Space and time for innovation

With such support, Zona Sul has not only been growing its online presence, but also changing the face of grocery retail in Rio de Janeiro. Having VTEX’s support system lets Zona Sul run that extra mile – and it keeps getting more creative. We are talking about drone delivery happening alongside giant brewery Ambev on gated communities in Rio de Janeiro, app integration with Google Lens and Voice Search, making shopping easier and accessible for most and, last but not least, a pioneering Alexa integration.

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

And the digitalization dream doesn’t stop there. The sky’s the limit for Zona Sul, so what comes next? With a customer-first mindset, the idea is to join forces between digital and physical stores to create a tailored user experience on both online and offline shopping. Can you even imagine? Going to the store and scanning a QR Code, immediately receiving a catalog of offers and products picked just for you? No more wandering around aisles and aisles to find that one specific tomato sauce you really want. 

We don’t mean to spoil anything, but, watch out, because Zona Sul is coming in head-first and aiming to change the grocery retail industry in Brazil.

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