Article | March 5, 2020
As most industries allocate time, money, and other resources into finding new employees in a labor market where the national unemployment rate is hanging at 3.5% — and substantially lower in some areas — at least one index says that distributors are sitting on the sidelines. According to the CBIZ Small Business Employment Index (SBEI), which tracks hiring trends for U.S. companies with 300 or fewer employees, 2020 kicked off with a seasonally-adjusted increase in hiring of 1.61% for January. “This is a notable improvement over the 1.16% decline in December,” CBIZ SBEI says. “It is also a remarkable number for January, as companies tend to contract their labor forces due to the end of the holiday shopping season.”
Article | August 24, 2021
The past 18 months has presented unimaginable challenges for many businesses seeking to stay afloat in times of crisis. But as with any challenge, shifting needs, perceptions and practices develop opportunity, opening doors for product and service differentiation.
Notably, in this time, sustainability has moved its way to the forefront of many minds. Not only has the pandemic forced businesses to re-evaluate commercial models for future resistance, but the constant reminder of issues regarding the climate crisis and ethical practices has magnified the need to think sustainably, too. But in this sense, sustainability is no longer a differentiator between businesses, and instead, an expected value any commercial enterprise must keep at its core.
The solution therefore, lies in the way in which sustainability is injected into every business practice - from manufacture to fulfilment. In this article, Nate Burke, CEO of technology, digital marketing and ecommerce solutions firm Diginius, discusses the latter end of a product's journey, and how sustainability can help businesses gain an edge on the competition.
As it stands, fast and free shipping is proving an attractive offering, often outperforming other cost-saving strategies. Understandably, these deals grab the attention of deal-savvy consumers who want their items delivered quickly and without extra charges on top of their original basket cost.
In fact, how many of us have paused, hesitated or even abandoned an order for the opposite reason? Well, you’re not alone - 64% of all online consumers expect their orders to be shipped for free and within five working days. What’s more, 68% of us will check a returns policy before making purchase. Present major obstacles here, and retailers will be providing an instant turn off in an ultra-competitive sales sphere.
Ultimately, an attractive delivery option can make all the difference in a customer choosing your products over a competitor’s. Unless they have developed long standing brand love, the chances of a customer remaining loyal to an offering which they can get for less and in quicker time elsewhere, are low.
This isn’t to undermine the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility, though. While fast and free shipping is expected, it may not necessarily be the most ethical business model, particularly if it will mean greater emissions for more frequent deliveries, and cost-cutting measures in other areas of the business in order to make up for lost shipping fees.
Global reports state that consumers would be more likely to purchase from companies with an established reputation for sustainability too. This suggests it is just as important for online businesses to focus their efforts on acting ethically, as it is for them to fulfil orders efficiently.
But with the rise of online shopping, which has been propelled by the pandemic with a 48% increase in online spending coming as a result of lockdown restrictions, businesses may be finding themselves weighing up the two. Clearly, there is misalignment between consumer expectations and commercial values here, and choosing between the two will require more than a look at a business’s bottom line.
Sustainability and credibility
It should be noted that today’s consumers are incredibly switched on when it comes to buying from sustainable brands. They can see through the smoke and mirrors or false claims to make informed decisions about the products and services they choose. And more often than not, these decisions are based on a brand’s credibility.
Any business can say they are doing certain things to protect the planet and their people, however, not all can provide sufficient evidence. And as competition increases, these are the businesses that are finding themselves falling behind.
We only need to look to recent examples such as Boohoo for proof. In 2020, the fast fashion giant found itself in hot water when it was revealed it was not following sustainable or ethical business practices. Poor warehouse conditions, less than minimum wage pay and inadequate health and safety standards were just a few of the concerns.
As a result, the company experienced huge losses, with its share price falling by more than a third during the first two days of the scandal coming to light. There is an undeniable perception on sustainability and ethical working practices, and people do not want to support brands that don’t support their economy and their people.
Interestingly however, as a fast fashion retailer, Boohoo is renowned for its speedy shipping and low prices, even offering unlimited next day delivery for a small, one-off yearly cost. Therefore, in this case, it is clear that efficient fulfilment alone is not enough to sustain commercial success. Its ethical responsibility had a larger part to play.
And while the company has attempted to correct its wrongdoings internally and then communicate these through marketing strategies, its tainted reputation is proving difficult to rebuild, suggesting just how important credibility is for a sustainable business.
But that’s not all. When it comes to free and fast shipping, credibility continues to play a significant role in shaping consumers’ perceptions of the service they are going to receive. For larger brands with established reputations, this is less of an issue, but for smaller companies who may be starting their ecommerce journey, it is vital that you appear a reliable, trustworthy and credible enterprise that is going to follow through with its promise of a fast and free delivery.
This may be through clear contact details for consumers to get in touch with queries, customer reviews, business information and responsive and helpful customer service via email, live chat, direct messaging or phone calls, for example.
A balancing act
Of course, building credibility will not solve every issue for a business, but it is a place to start. It is also a common denominator for sustainability and fulfilment and can help businesses differentiate themselves from the competition.
However, the misalignment between attractive cost saving deals and sustainable business practices can cause confusion. Often, lower delivery fees and fast shipping incentives, particularly for items that are already low in price, can set off alarm bells and leave customers questioning the ethical impact of their purchase. Alternatively, high fees and long delays can send customers looking elsewhere - both are bad for business.
Instead, businesses need to find a balance. Find the point at which free and fast shipping can be offered without impacting profit margins, and therefore, the sustained success of the business. For example, ASOS offers free delivery for orders over £35. While the majority of its customers are likely to spend this amount anyway, those that are not are enticed to do so, generating greater income for the business and an attractive deal for the customer. And in the minds of customers, the reasonable threshold amount helps justify the cost saving as a sustainable offer, rather than something that will put the business out of pocket and force them to act unethically elsewhere to make back lost earnings.
The threshold will be different for every business, but through the use of data and analytics tools, the amount that is best for your business can quite easily be found. These tools can also help centralise activity, from sourcing and manufacture to product marketing and post purchase service. With this in place, processes can become much more streamlined, which can in turn, increase the efficiency of order fulfilment. If things are delayed, for instance in the case of pandemic disruption, email updates can be automated, ensuring you are also providing high quality customer service.
With all this in place, not only will a business be sustainable and efficient, but its credibility will only go from strength to strength, too.
Article | August 18, 2021
The term "Horeca" is an abbreviation of "Hotel", "Restaurant" and "Café". It represents a very diverse sector, i.e. from star-restaurants to catering and canteens to brasseries up to small, local cafes. A small country like Belgium counted end 2017 almost 60.000 horeca-enterprises (7% of all Belgian enterprises), thus showing the importance of this sector. Furthermore with a total revenue (also end 2017) of over 15 billion EUR and more than 75.000 people employed in this sector, it remains an important economical actor for the Belgian economy.
It is undisputable that the Covid crisis has been a disaster for this sector. However, now that life gradually returns back to normal, it is likely that the trends which were already launched in the horeca sector before the crisis will be even enforced and accelerated.
With new habits come new customer needs related to the horeca. Think about the company canteens. With more people working from home, this sector will have to reinvent itself. Most likely they will start offering also prepared meals directly to consumers via supermarkets and other distribution channels. Obviously, this will force other actors in this market to reinvent themselves, thus launching a chain reaction.
Even more pronounced is the impact of take-away and delivery. While a large group of the population was still a bit hesitant to consume take-away, the Covid-confinements also forced this group to start exploring these new services. At the same time, restaurants which were not offering take-away services before were also forced to adapt. As a result, take-away and meal delivery services have known an exponential boost and this trend, although it will know a small set back when the pandemic is fully over, is here to stay.
Unfortunately the horeca sector was already a sector with a lot of difficulties before the crisis. The sector historically copes with one of the highest percentages of businesses bankruptcies , especially when looking at the first 5 years following the establishment of the business. This is often caused by the fact that many people consider the horeca as an easy way to entrepreneurship, founding their businesses with a poor of even no business plan. At the same time there is of course the strong dependency on labor. As this sector is very labor intensive, margins are low due to the high labor costs. Furthermore with hard work and irregular and long working hours, horeca businesses have more and more difficulties to find motivated and qualified personnel. Additionally the sector, being so fragmented, often lacks professionalism, not really for the horeca-activity (i.e. the preparation and serving of food and drinks) itself, but rather for the supporting activities like financial management, supply chain management (like good stock management), procurement… This makes that many restaurants have a poor view on the breakdown of their costs and revenues, thus losing a lot of money in inefficiencies like expired stocks due to too large ordering, certain dishes which are not sold at the right price, employees being paid too much expensive overhours, bad negotiations with suppliers…
Apart from the above very obvious trends, there are still a lot of other trends. These map perfectly with the 8 universal trends, I described in my earlier blog "Universal trends - Common over all industries?" - https://bankloch.blogspot.com/2021/01/universal-trends-common-over-all.html, i.e.
Pressure on margins: margins are historically already low in the horeca sector, but are becoming even more under pressure, due to new forms of competition, like meal boxes (like HelloFresh or Foodbag), prepared meal services (like Mealhero), sharing platforms (like Thuisafgehaald or Menu Next Door), virtual restaurants (also called Dark Kitchens, i.e. restaurants without a physical location, but only serving online delivery platforms), living room and concept restaurants… This forces restaurants to work more professionally and efficiently and find a specific niche (of clientele willing to pay extra for specific product or experience). These efficiency gains can be achieved via digitalization (with regards to personnel management, cash register, stock management…) and new technologies (like 3D printers or cocktail machines like "Tenderone", "Bottletender"…), but also by being more selective on opening hours/days (especially for weekends and holidays), putting less (more specialized) choice on the menu card, making dishes less complex by investing more in the quality of the ingredients, by pushing more self-service (e.g. let the customer cut the food for the whole table, which has as a welcome benefit that it increase the customer experience).
Trustworthiness: clients must have confidence (trust) in a horeca place they are visiting. Obviously, the customers must have the feeling of being treated fairly and respectfully (e.g. via a transparent and correct pricing), but they also want to be able to trust the product they are consuming (eating or drinking). This means providing more transparency, like providing more info about each dish and more its ingredients (important for specific diets and allergies), nutritional value and origin of the product (i.e. farm-to-table).
Frictionless experience: the customer experience should be at pleasant as possible, meaning any friction should be removed where possible. This consists of frictionless ordering processes, via digital menu cards (providing details of each dish and allowing easy filtering) and direct ordering (directly to the kitchen), all the way to a frictionless checkout, consisting of digitally receiving and paying the bill. A multitude of solutions are available here, like full ERP solutions for horeca businesses (like Apicbase, Horeko, Square for restaurants, HorecaMakers, Growzer…), digital menu card solutions (like Kimeru, Digital Wizards, Futuresto, EasyButler…), ordering terminals and apps (like Futuresto, EasyButler, MyOrder, QCard, PayMyTable…), cash registers (like Lightspeed, RestoMax, Gastrofix, HorecaMakers…).
Personalization: the most important trend for the horeca is obviously the personalization. This results in products and services adapted to the specific needs and desires of every customer. Additionally horeca businesses are being converted more and more into "Experience" places (i.e. surprise your customers, by selling them moments and letting them escape from the stress of day-to-day life), i.e. ensure to give the customer a unique, unforgettable experience, not only via the food and service, but also via the texture and color of the dishes, the building, the interior design…
More in detail this trend means:
New types of restaurants, like living room restaurants (enforcing a more personal touch and home feeling), concept restaurants, food markets, pop-up restaurants…
Accommodating for different food and drink choices. Already around 20-25% of people have a specific food choice, meaning restaurants have to accomodate for people wanting to eat vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, paleo, biological… Additionally people want alternatives for the traditional wine-card like different types of water, mocktails, non-alcoholic wine, champagne and spirits (e.g. Seedlip), luxury soft drinks (e.g. Crodino, Finley, Pinky Rose, Fentimans & Fritz-Kola) or special types of tea to drink the meal.
Horeca places should become places to socialize, i.e. provide a home-feeling (i.e. a feeling of comfort, stability, trust, intimacy, warmth…), engage socializing between guests via guest tables, street food or sharing plates…
Allow customers to compose their dishes themselves, cfr. Subway, Hawaiian Poke Bowl…
Democratization: by working more efficiently, more automation and digitalization, it becomes possible to offer certain services and products in higher volumes and at lower costs and thus at a lower pricing. This means certain horeca products, which were before only available to the happy-few cannot be offered to a larger segment of the population. A good example are star-restaurants offering a standardized (simpler) version of their dishes via a take-out or catering service.
Authenticity: restaurants are focusing more and more on providing an authentic experience, e.g. by transforming old factories or churches to restaurants, integrating open kitchens where guests can see the cooks preparing the dishes, chefs finishing plates at the customer’s table… Additionally there is a trend towards pure, simple and honest, meaning natural, artisanal and/or high-quality products (ingredients), which are prepared and served in a simple way. A good example of this are also the traditional dishes in a more luxury fashion, e.g. new types of éclairs (Chez Claire), croques (RemorK), hamburgers (Ellis Gourmet burger), meat balls (Balls & Glory)…
ESG (Environment, Social and Corporate Governance): with customers being more sensitive about the environment and society, horeca places need to accommodate to this customer desire. Restaurants are working more and more with local, healthy (e.g. use of superfoods, use of less salt and fat…), biological/organic and Fairtrade products, but also with products with a lower ecological footprint, like e.g. replacing meat with insects, soya-based meat replacements or vegetables. Additionally horeca players need to avoid waste, via a no-waste kitchen concept (via e.g. smaller portions, trash cooking, creative usage of waste…), via anti-food-waste platforms (like Too Good To Go) and by reducing/avoiding packaging (e.g. avoiding plastic straws, cups…).
Partnerships: as many businesses, a horeca business is more and more integrated in a concept, like incorporated in a shop or combined with an experience (like a horeca place in a brewery). Additionally due to the digital revolution, horeca places need to partner more and more with online ordering and delivery services (like Deliveroo, TakeAway.com or UberEats, potentially integrated via Deliverect), social media (like Facebook and Instagram) and food review platforms (like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, Foursquare…), reservation platforms (like TheFork, Tablebooker, Resto.be…) ordering and payment apps (like Dorst.app or Yummy.app). Additionally new players are coming on the market to help horeca businesses with their typical problems, like procurement (e.g. Tippr or Horeca Direct Shop) or recruitment (e.g. Mise en Place).
It is clear that although the horeca sector is already centuries old, it is also undergoing major disruptions. In the end let us hope that all those evolutions can give us an even more enjoyable horeca experience.