Lessons Learned from E-Commerce

December 28, 2020.  We ordered the food but couldn’t find the riders to deliver them. 

Our family of cousins, uncles, and aunts couldn’t be together for New Year’s Eve.  Reunions and parties were not allowed in lieu of ongoing restrictions brought on by the CoVID-19 pandemic.  Instead, we ordered food from a food shop and was counting on available motorcycle riders to deliver them hot and fresh to our relatives on December 31, New Year’s Eve.

But starting December 23, we noticed available riders were getting fewer and fewer.  By the 30th of December, there were practically no riders available.  I ended up driving to the food shop to get the food packs and deliver them to my cousins’ residences on New Year’s Eve. 

We used to sit at a restaurant, order via a menu, wait as the restaurant’s kitchen prepared our meals, and enjoyed our food as waiters brought them to the table. 

No more.

Because of the pandemic, we had to opt via the e-commerce way, which was sit at home, order via mobile phone or tablet, wait for the food shop (a former caterer) to confirm that our meals were prepared, and then book a 3rd party rider service (motorcycle delivery courier) to bring our ordered food to our home. 

The success of e-commerce relied on a seamless process of order taking, preparation, and delivery.  Most of the time, there were no problems.  As long as the internet stayed fast and continuous, the food shops had the capacities, and there was an abundance of available delivery riders, we made our orders and had gotten them when we wanted them.

The December 2020 holidays, however, reminded us that e-commerce did have its limits. And the first place it manifested itself was in the riders.  We had no clue that riders will be rare a week before New Year’s Eve. 

We always assume there’s enough capacity throughout the e-commerce process. 

But we can never tell how many riders there’d be today or tomorrow.

Availability of riders is not only due to factors such as absenteeism and driver population but also very much in lockstep with the number of pending deliveries.

Since it was the holiday season, riders weren’t only tired and taking leave but pending deliveries were at their peak. 

As food shops were managing through the high demand and the Internet remained steady and speedy for customers who ordered, the bottleneck in the e-commerce supply chain was in the available riders to deliver the orders. 

There were several companies in the rider business, at least three (3) major ones in our city, Manila, to count on. 

If one couldn’t take the orders, we would resort to another. 

This worked most of the time but the holiday season of 2020 crimped the capacities of just about everyone.  

In the end, I (and probably a significant number of families) just had to pick up our orders ourselves.

I don’t know if this is going to be the new normal of the food e-commerce business in which I’d have to pick up my own orders when there are no riders available.  But there are lessons coming out that I’m learning.

Lesson #1:  E-commerce is Different.

E-commerce does not follow the same process as what we are familiar with order fulfilments.  For food shops, it’s click, prepare, and deliver.  It’s no more the sit-in-restaurant, order by menu, cook by kitchen, and meals placed on a table.  We pay online not in person.  It’s a total change from the traditional face-to-face transaction.

Lesson #2:  The Customer Experience Has Become Mutual

The e-commerce experience is a sea change from in-person interaction.  With e-commerce, it’s about ordering products by ourselves and getting our order in the right quality and quantity by ourselves.   The onus of ordering and the method for delivery has passed more to the customer from that of the enterprise.  The experience has become more dependent on a mutually beneficial collaboration between customer and enterprise. 

Lesson #3:  Customers Can Be Choosier but Can’t Get All of What They Want

Customers can be choosier as e-commerce opens the door to a multitude of enterprises into the market.  There are more food varieties, for instance, to choose from as restaurants, caterers, and want-to-be-chefs advertise themselves side-by-side on the worldwide web.   At the same time, customers can’t dictate how orders would be fulfilled or delivered as it’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get when it comes to transacting online. 

Lesson #4:  Management Has to Learn to Change

It’s not just enterprise executives have to change how they manage their operations but also that they have to learn to manage in an actively-changing environment.  No longer can enterprises expect a daily steady crowd of customers or expect to have the same capabilities in production and delivery.  E-commerce allows more competition and innovation as it expands the marketplace and connects more enterprises and customers.  Both enterprise owners and customers would need to be ready to adapt and change quickly as new products and services are introduced frequently

Lesson #5:  E-Commerce is Not IT; It’s Supply Chain Management

Last but not least, if we don’t already know, e-commerce is a supply chain thing.  It’s not an information technology (IT) thing.  A lot of entrepreneurs are spending a great deal of time on development and programming of applications but not much on engineering and managing operations.  E-commerce is one-side IT (clicking on an app and paying online) and one-side physical work (product preparation & delivery logistics).  It is therefore elementary that entrepreneurs learn how to optimally serve their products as much as to have  user-friendly efficient web applications. 

These are just some of the lessons.  There probably will be more as e-commerce gets off the ground. 

Meanwhile, I’ll just make sure my car is ready to pick up my family dinners in case no riders are available again. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

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