Interview: The Foschini Group trialling 'deliver to me' service

South African retail group The Foschini Group (TFG) – which has acquired UK fashion brands Phase Eight and Whistles over the last couple of years – is trialling a new delivery service in its home country that allows customers to have products delivered to them based on their GPS location.

In what would be a premium online shopping fulfilment option for consumers making purchases at the group's brands, including the likes of Foschini, Markham and Sportscene, the retailer is working with Uber-style courier service Wumdrop to make the delivery option a reality.

Essential Retail spoke to Jan Tukker, head of logistics at TFG, about the service at the recent Manhattan Associates Exchange event in Paris.

He said: "When a customer is online and goes to checkout they are not required to put in a full delivery address – they can choose to 'deliver to me'.

"And when it is time for the order to leave the warehouse, we will deliver to a drop box somewhere before a crowdsourced delivery service will be instructed to pick up from there and deliver to the customer."

Although acknowledging the handover points may need some smoothing out, Tukker noted that the innovative delivery comes when the courier picks up the parcel from the drop-off point using a unique pin code before sending  a message to the end customer "requiring them to give us permission to use their location on their phone".

"I'm sure there'll be further steps involved where message are sent saying 'we know where you are, will you be there for the next hour?', so you don't get situations where a guy on a scooter is chasing a customer down the highway!"

Wumdrop was established in South Africa in 2014 partly as a reaction to rising eCommerce sales in the country but also due to what the organisation described as a lack of simple courier options.

Tukker believes that the service will capture a small part of the market, for example travelling salesmen or people who need an item quickly, and it is viewed as one part of a wider fulfilment offering that the company hopes will include click & collect and order online, serve from store in the near future.

"We're capturing a small part of the market using this sexy technology, but we have no idea where it is going to take us," he added.

"It creates excitement in the marketplace. We have won a couple of awards in the online space."

There are no signs the service will be coming to the Phase Eight, Whistles and the UK any time soon – Wumdrop started in Johannesberg and has only recently expanded to Cape Town where TFG is headquartered – but Tukker met up with his logistics counterparts in the UK in October to share some ideas and formally introduce himself.

Since the takeovers, TFG has effectively allowed its UK acquisitions to operate as normal – and there is an existing management remaining share of each business to help with the transition and integration period following the takeovers.

From a logistics and supply chain perspective there is no indication that TFG will be pressuring its UK division to do anything it does not want to do, Tukker noted.

"But as time goes by hopefully we can get some economies of scale and maybe for the parts we import from the east we can get some better volume discounts, or learn from what they are doing or vice versa."

Tukker also explained that TFG is influenced by different parts of the world when it comes to retailing, but his recent forays into Europe have given him the impression that South African retailers play themselves down in terms of their sophisticated operations. "We're actually quite advanced in how we discuss retail and how we go about it," he said.

"Because of our broad geography – the distance from Cape Town to Johannesburg for example is around 1,500km which is effectively halfway across the US – when we look at logistics solutions we try and get our ideas from the States because we're delivering so far apart.

"A lot of our inspiration on store design we get from looking at the UK – our store footprints tend to be a bit smaller. We have this US supply chain mentality with a European store mentality."

TFG uses Manhattan Associates' warehouse management system solutions for its two sites in South Africa and the company is paying attention to new distributed order management technology, to potentially cater for any growth in the number of sites it operates and for when its fulfilment offerings become more complex in time.

For now, the Wumdrop system is the new technology being tested by Tukker and his team to see if it is one of those new fulfilment options it will offer on a permanent basis.

"It's about pushing the boundaries – If it's possible why not try it?"

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