by AKANI CHAUKE
JOHANNESBURG – THE ban in the delivery and sales of alcohol will remain of the lingering memories of South Africa’s lockdown against the coronavirus (COVID-19).
While the nationwide restrictions left imbibers seething, spare a thought for a business based on the delivery of alcohol to homes.
The ban should signal the death of such an enterprise.
To emerge from a reality like this, with more than 160 000 new customers, and having needed to employ more staff, is truly remarkable.
That is the story of Bottles, South Africa’s first on-demand liquor delivery app.
After three years of operation, the business was facing a real threat. The incomes and the livelihoods of 18 employees were on the line.
However, due to their positive business relationship with major retailer, Pick n Pay, and some quick footwork, the business pivoted almost overnight.
Bottles changed from an app that focused on delivering alcoholic beverages, to re-emerge as an on-demand ‘grocery essentials app’, offering same-day service to customers.
Vincent Viviers and Enrico Ferigolli, are founders and joint Chief Executive Officers of Bottles, which walked away as winners of the ‘Best Consumer App’ category in the 2019 MTN Business App of the Year Awards.
“In the beginning it was really about shaking up a legacy industry where technology was virtually absent,” Viviers said, reflecting on their business journey.
He added the idea for Bottles came about when the founders were at a braai.
They had finished their drinks and wondered why there was no app they could use to get more drinks delivered.
“Then,” added Ferigolli.
“We looked at wine apps only to find that, although users could review wines, there was no functionality that would enable the user to order a bottle,” Ferigolli said.
This spurred their conviction that it was time for things to change.
Ferigolli said at the beginning, their user experience did not account for the complexity of orders and the unavailability of some brands of groceries.
“In a matter of days, we had to build ‘stock substitution’ functionality into our app – enabling users to choose replacement brands for missing items,” Ferigolli said.
Now, even though ‘Level 2 Lockdown’ has almost returned things to normal, groceries have remained on the Bottles order list. South Africa has since moved to Level 1 Lockdown.
Bottles’ COVID-19 story has a happy ending, with the company more than doubling its reach and trebling orders.
The two executives’ complementary skills have made them ideal partners.
Viviers has a Business Science (Hon) degree in Marketing, and past experience in retail as well as working at a major global tech company.
Ferigolli boasts digital and business experience in the creative media industry.
Although more food and delivery apps have made their appearance on mobiles, Bottles is firmly entrenched in the minds of its users.
Bottles has consistently been ranked within the top 10 apps in the Food and Drink category and is rated within the top 50 apps overall.
“We are proud to now be a grocery and liquor delivery app,” Ferigolli said.
Bottles has more than 160 000 new registered users and have grown by 600 percent year-on-year, in both sales and turnover terms since March 2020.
Perhaps the most important thing is that Ferigolli and Viviers have hired another 14 people, taking the numbers to 32.
They have also managed to create opportunities for over 200 third-party delivery driver-partners.
“Our team has been working remotely since the beginning of lockdown with great results, showing us that it is possible to run a business efficiently in this way,” the executives stated.
Kholo Magagane, Head of Marketing at MTN SA Business, said that the Bottles success story perfectly demonstrated one of the biggest strengths of a digitally-based service company.
“When changes have to be made quickly, there is generally little need to compensate for major investments in brick and mortar. Operating digitally means that operational efforts can be concentrated in areas that will bring results,” Magagane said.
This year marks the ninth edition of the MTN Business App of the Year Awards, aimed at encouraging the efforts of local developers but at further building an industry that will contribute to rebuilding the South African economy.
– CAJ News