A Colombian start-up with no former experience in retail is aiming to shake up the way people buy groceries online.
Tech firm Grability has developed Rappi, a smartphone app that aims to makes shopping as easy as swiping your finger across a screen.
Instead of laboriously wading through long written lists of food items, shoppers swipe through images of supermarket shelves and touch pictorial representations of each food item they want to buy.
Grability has applied for a patent – pending in the US – for this swiping process, but it also handles the back-end platform that integrates the app with retailers’ systems.
When the shopping is done and the order placed, a delivery person, which the company calls a “rappitendero”, selects the items from the stores and delivers them to the customer.
A senior retail industry source in Colombia, who preferred not to be named, described the app as “transformative, revolutionary” and was particularly surprised that the young entrepreneurs – Sebastian Mejia, Simon Borrero and Felipe Villamarin – are complete outsiders.
Despite this apparent lack of experience, the company is already working with major retailers, such as Cencosud in South America and El Corte Ingles in Spain.
So what attracted a Spanish retail giant to a little Colombian tech start-up?
“The main factor was the ease of use we could offer our clients,” says an El Corte Ingles spokesman. “The time to make a purchase was reduced from one hour to 20 minutes.”
The app features products from many local shops, which avoids putting retailers in the uncomfortable position of looking more expensive than a competitor on a single mobile screen. The entire inventory is updated every two hours, the company says.
Uber for groceries?
But could the company, whose app is currently only available in Mexico City and Bogota, break into the US market, where there is already a huge player in online grocery deliveries, Instacart, currently valued at about $2bn (£1.37bn)?
Grability thinks it can as there is plenty of room for growth in the sector.
Around 3% of groceries are bought online in the US, whereas for other products, online accounts for about 20% to 30% of total sales, say Rappi’s founders.
“Our vision is to change the way people buy all over the world,” says co-founder Sebastian Mejia.
Rappi does not own shops or warehouses or manage inventories of goods, nor does it employ the rappitenderos directly – they are self-employed, earning money through delivery fees and tips.
In this sense, the company says it follows the Uber model.