LateBird - the shopping innovation | customer interview
Early birds catch the worms. But if you want to have access to an extensive shopping assortment around the clock, you should rather become a LateBird.
The first LateBird, a mobile container with a digitalized shopping system, has taken flight after several years of development and is now available 24/7/365 to customers in Lower Saxony. For us as a hosting partner the reason to interview Alexander Burghardt, Managing Director, and Bajdin Avdylaj, Digital Integration Manager at LateBird.
The first LateBird has been installed. What do you have planned next?
Right now we are in the comfortable position that retailers are approaching us and want to work with us. But we have to look at doing the right thing at the right time. If a gas station chain asks us, "Can you supply me with a hundred LateBirds this year?" we clearly have to say no.
We can deliver a hundred within the next few months, but not to a single customer, because the demand is simply too strong for that. It also depends on the size of the LateBirds: We have systems that can be delivered with a forklift. And then again we have those for which we need a deep semitrailer truck and a 130-ton crane. We can deliver a lot more of the smaller containers than of the large ones. But our planning for the coming year includes having some LateBirds out "in the field."
Besides the possibility to deliver the LateBird and have them operated by gas stations, retailers, airports, train stations, we can also imagine being an operator ourselves as Latebird. We have already been offered the possibility of placing one or the other shopping system in a special location, or setting it up in-house in a retail store. Our company would then not only provide all the technology, but also operate it ourselves.
At the moment, however, the focus is on supporting retailers. No two LateBirds that will be out in the next few years are alike - within a retail chain, perhaps, but beyond that, all are individually planned. Some would have a patio, others a canopy, still others perhaps an illuminated coffee cup on the roof. We plan all these design measures with the customer. Just like the technical implementation: store software or adjustments based on the customer journey. And we provide support with the architectural requirements, such as electrical planning or the necessary building applications.
Where can the Latebird be used?
Classic areas of application could be train stations or even airports. When we talk about retail, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, food retail. But there are many more industries that can use the LateBird - and thus also influence placement. Drugstores could be operators, but also DIY stores or suppliers of pet supplies. There are just an incredible number of possibilities, and it's incredibly fun to explore the possibilities with prospects, idea generators and customers. A little sneak peak: At one of Germany's largest airports, the installation of a LateBird in the first quarter of 2023 is more than likely.
Is the LateBird more than a supermarket in a container?
A very clear yes. It's much more than a metal case from which a food product comes out.
The LateBird is concentrated intelligence: It combines different technical trades with each other, and above all, there is an application world that we have developed over many years. And we are very proud of that. All the applications that run on the system: Let's start with the Magento backend, then the whole front end, the digital control software based on TwinCAT - all programmed in-house. And then the apps for the operators and for the customers. All our own developments. For us as a young company and for the whole team, this is extremely important, because this is our "intellectual property."
Another important point in this context is the data that the LateBird generates. On the one hand, there is data that is transmitted or created by our operators' customers, such as user names and payment information - the operators have data sovereignty over this.
How do you ensure the future viability of LateBird?
From the very beginning, we have placed a lot of emphasis on securing the "intellectual property" mentioned above. For this - i.e. for the entire system - we have a European patent. And since the end of May, we also have a complete, unconditional patent for the USA. Conversely, this does not mean that we will go to America tomorrow, but the patents are important pillars for the value of the company.
If we (were to) set our sights on the American market, we would not export the systems, but have them built locally. Because, of course, they would have to be tailored specifically to the American market. That starts with the power supply. And there are also completely different terrestrial requirements there. We would certainly do some more development work in Paderborn, but at the same time we would create production opportunities in the USA.
We have had expansion into other markets in mind from the very beginning. That's why we chose Magento, among other things, as our backend software, which is very international.
What makes the LateBird stand out from a technical point of view?
As I said, the LateBird is more than just a supermarket in a container. With our customer app, for example, we offer consumers a very convenient way to shop. Two examples: I'm sitting on the sofa at the weekend and spontaneously guests invite themselves over for a barbecue. But the refrigerator is empty. So I open the app, order sausages, mustard and potato salad, go to LateBird and nothing stands in the way of the barbecue.
Or I'm on the train home from work. Open the app, reserve groceries, and when I arrive at the station, I simply go to the LateBird, pick up my goods, and can go home relaxed. I don't have to run through the supermarket again - assuming there's even one open.
Of course, spontaneous shoppers will dominate at the LateBird in the beginning. But once the system has established itself, the "app orderers" will certainly increase. This will also open up new opportunities for retailers. The app then becomes a customer loyalty tool that can be used to offer vouchers and coupons as incentive schemes. And yes, the app can of course also be used as an advertising channel.
The operator app, on the other hand, is unavoidable for the retailer. It runs exclusively on a tablet located in the back of the LateBird's merchandise area. The app is used for the entire filling process of the system. Additionally, it is equipped with multiple scanners: Finger, product and compartment scanners - very important for inventory management. Of course, as with any management app, the content is also available on the desktops of the project or team managers, so that the current inventory per system can always be viewed. Magento helps us ensure seamless integration with the operators' ERP systems. By the way, also part of the reason we chose Magento as our backend software is that it provides enough API to dock interfaces. And since we have a multistore license, we can also scale with it. This means that pricing and the like can be carried out in the operators' systems and, at the same time, stock can also be reconciled in the headquarters' merchandise management system.
It is also irrelevant whether we are talking about an SAP connection, an Oracle merchandise management system or whatever - Magento provides the interfaces and we can use them for integration.
Why did you choose maxcluster as your hosting partner?
We have had good experiences with maxcluster support in the past. In addition, the service has always been right and the performance has always been optimal. Of course, it helps that maxcluster, as an e-commerce hoster, specializes in Magento hosting, among other things, and knows which settings can be made to increase performance.
Another point was the physical proximity to LateBird. Now you could say that this is not relevant for a hosting company, but for us it was an important decision criterion. This also includes hosting in Germany, which is absolutely essential for us.
LateBird is not a classic online store. Why is e-commerce hosting important for you?
We use modules of the Magento system in our LateBird containers. As a result, we have requirements for a hosting company that a classic online store also has. We don't need any special configurations at the moment, but we do need a system that is flexible and also grows automatically as our requirements increase.
Auto-scaling is the right keyword here: we need hosting that doesn't buckle even during peaks. And we need a partner who will work with us in the long term, because the delivery of the first LateBird was just the beginning. With our systems, you can't just switch servers, because everything runs fully automatically. We would therefore have to actively intervene manually in every single LateBird system in the event of a change - an incredible effort given what is already in the pipeline. Of course, we want to avoid that, and that's why it was important for us from the very beginning to find a partner who can grow with us. After all, we're planning a very complex story here: assume that 20 million purchases will be made in the system by the end of 2023 - with an average of three products. With our growth forecasts, more than one billion items will then run through the LateBird belts in five years.
All our partners will have to be able to handle this planned development, from the supplier of intelligent system cabinets to digital control and conveyor technology.
Of course, all partners had to and still have to bring a fair amount of pioneering spirit and performance to the table at the beginning, but now nothing stands in the way of scaling.
But what we already appreciate with maxcluster is the support. The quick feedback. You can call them and they will help you immediately. We were able to solve problems that arose, for example, due to the installation of modules or after updates, immediately thanks to the active help of the support.
We are certainly not the biggest customer, but we never have the feeling that we are treated worse by the support. We are simply helped quickly and well - even on weekends.
What are the biggest advantages of the cooperation for you?
Besides the local proximity and the support already mentioned above? The reliability. We haven't had an unplanned outage yet. And we are also clearly informed about updates, so that we can be well prepared for them.
And then, of course, there's the performance. This is particularly noticeable when we add another test system to the inventory. We don't notice anything from the peak - the system immediately catches itself again by simply scaling up and then continuing to perform.
And we simply save time and nerves because we know that there is always someone in the background who can help. Speaking of the background, the backup system is also another important advantage. Of course, there are many who say that they have a backup system, but we don't know of any that is as convenient, fast and reliable as maxcluster's.
Thank you very much for the interview.
About the people
Alexander Burghardt is a native Swabian, lives in Berlin and has now been working in Paderborn since LateBird was founded. He has spent a large part of his professional life in mainly American large corporations, such as Cisco Systems, Oracle or Motorola. After working abroad, he decided against a further career in large corporations and accepted the offer of Markus Belte, founder of Latebird, to lead the company operationally.
Bajdin Avdylaj is the e -commerce expert at Latebird as Digital Integration Manager.
About the LateBird
LateBird was launched in 2018 by CEO and Founder Markus Belte. The latter had outlined the idea after a failed attempt to get food for a spontaneous celebration on the weekend. Coming from the field of chemistry and physics, Markus Belte focused primarily on possible temperature zones within a LateBird container at the beginning.
Published on 22.11.2022 | NM
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