Spar is the last of the four major supermarket retailers to enter the on-demand delivery space, after Checkers Sixty60 pioneered the model with a very modest launch in November 2019.
Pick n Pay partnered with Bottles, which used to focus exclusively on liquor delivery, during the nationwide lockdown. It later bought the business (in October 2020) and renamed it PnP asap! in July last year. On Tuesday it revealed a partnership with Takealot Group’s Mr Delivery service, broadening its on-demand grocery service.
Woolworths was comparatively late, launching its service, Woolies Dash, which remains in ‘trial’, in December 2020.
And now, finally, Spar has Spar2U. In February, the Durban-headquartered retailer said the “platform will be available in a group of stores in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg by the end of March 2022”.
The pilot (the retailer’s specific description) remains available in only one store at present, SuperSpar Sunninghill (and neighbouring liquor store Tops).
Deliveries are available within a 5km radius of the store (covering Sunninghill as well as parts of Waterfall, Paulshof and Rivonia) and cost R35, the market price as established by Sixty60.
Instead of using motorcycles like the services from its three rivals, Spar2U uses electric scooters (contracted from SkyNet). Minimum orders are R100.
The browsing and selection process on the mobile app is, well, fine. In truth, Spar has embedded a web store running on the Shopify platform within an app wrapper. It has a handful of these web stores providing online shopping at selected stores across the country.
This doesn’t make much of a difference, but the experience is nowhere near as slick as the three apps from its rivals. To be fair, it is about as basic as Sixty60 was two years ago.
At the moment, it appears that most (if not all) of the retailer’s national or regional promotions are available on the app, but its popular Spar Rewards discounts are not available. Users need to register a new account, even if they’ve already registered for Spar Rewards (a completely separate platform).
From the experience last weekend, it appears the integration with its store stock management system still has some issues. For example, there were no large bottles (1 litre-plus) of ‘normal’ Coke available on Sunday. The Sunday Times was displayed as “out of stock”. In Tops (which requires the user to set their address from scratch so they are able to switch stores), a case of Lion Lager could be added to a cart for R15.50 (the single unit price).
Searching for items works well and you are (currently) able to order a specific number of items from the bakery (four bread rolls, for example). This is not scaleable and will surely be pared back.
The store’s popular hot and prepared meals are also on offer (with average prices of each displayed). One can select substitute items (if one’s first choice is unavailable) per product in your cart. A timeslot for delivery needs to be selected before finalising an order.
Payment was swift (this would be expected on a Shopify platform) and there is a 10% ‘surcharge’ reserved on the card temporarily to “cover extra costs during possible product replacement”.
An order confirmation is sent via push notification as well as email. Once the order is packed and out for delivery another notification is sent.
There is a form to send a message to the driver but there is no driver tracking or any way to contact or message the driver in real-time in this pilot.
The order was placed at 09:49 on Sunday and left the store at about 10:12. Delivery took 20 minutes, very reasonable given the store is an 11-minute car drive away. The order arrived in a now commonplace branded brown paper bag (again, popularised by Sixty60). The items (milk, eggs, chocolate, pretzels and rolls) were thoughtfully packed. The driver said he had done three deliveries (including this order) on Sunday morning.
So, Spar2U works. You can order items, pay for them and they are delivered. But these are the table stakes now.
Some consumers may switch to the app simply for the convenience, but to really drive adoption Spar is going to have to work to get the actual user experience in the app to a point where it is slick. It will want to also curate its selections on the home screen (‘Top Up Shop’, ‘Pantry Basics’) a lot better.
The link between the customer and the driver needs to be as close to real-time as possible, as Spar will have surely found out already in this pilot. There is also no way to flag an issue with an order (presumably one needs to call the store).
Spar’s decentralised model where each store is independently owned and operated (and members belong to the Spar guild) is a hindrance with a service like this – it’s the primary reason why Spar doesn’t offer broad online shopping (aside from those handful of stores, each with their own online shop).
Judging from the amount of promotional material in store, it appears the next pilot is ready to begin at Spar Pineslopes in Fourways. It must get more stores onto this pilot as rapidly as possible, and it (as well as its store owners) must embrace the fact that there are going to be mistakes.
A dozen deliveries (one guesses) from a single store per day is not going to yield results that are that meaningful.
The strength of Spar (at least in most shoppers’ eyes) is precisely its decentralised model – people love their neighbourhood Spar. The group ought to capitalise on that strength as far as possible with Spar2U.
Otherwise, it’s going to face an almighty battle to maintain market share, especially in urban areas in the face of a very strong Checkers and resurgent Pick n Pay.