You may expect a startup that rides the e-commerce tide to be conducted by tech-savvy, code-fluent pc wizards with obscure engineering backgrounds. Nevertheless, Blu creator Prashant Dadlani, 26, is living proof that you do not need a digital background to establish a tech-related business. All you need is a fundamental notion, and staff to help you realise it. Of the 30-odd employees in this retail logistics startup, five to 10 work in tech development. Mr Dadlani’s own background is in business and finance. It was while pursuing his degree at the Singapore Management University he struck on the idea of filling a gap at the neighbourhood e-commerce scene.
The situation will be familiar to most online shoppers: you buy a thing in minutes, but receiving your purchase is far less hassle-free. Mr Dadlani said: “There’s no point fulfilling orders quickly in the event that you can’t receive orders fast.” From the customer’s standpoint, what matters is that the whole time required for the products to reach their hands.
Founded in October 2016, it’s but one of many companies in Singapore that offer self-service pick-ups, allowing online shoppers to retrieve their purchases from a variety of locations in their convenience. There are currently 67 Blu Ports – automated package lockers – in locations such as convenience stores, petrol kiosks and shopping malls. Other retailers such as Blu additionally works with logistics companies like DHL, so that parcels can be picked up at Blu Ports instead of being delivered to your home. What sets Blu apart is that it provides services beyond last-mile logistics by moving higher up the retail value chain; these solutions vary from order management to warehousing, stock management and order fulfilment.
With such end-to-end integration, orders can be put, fulfilled and sent to a bluPort within a day. Sporting goods store Qoolmart and wellness supplement store GoPure is one of the online retailers utilizing Blu’s end-to-end services, making same-day delivery possible. These services can be found via one cloud-based stock and management system, Blu Portal. Merchants use it to track the performance of different online sales channels, track inventory, and upgrade their product catalogue.
At the front-end, Blu’s system is incorporated into retailers’ own e-commerce sites. Shoppers can merely choose bluPort delivery at the checkout site. Back-end integration ensures that once an order is received on the merchant’s own e-commerce site, it’s automatically fulfilled. This is due to Blu Store, the company’s 30,000sq ft warehouse at Jurong East. There, hidden behind tall walls from the organization’s colours of yellow and blue, the automatic inventory system works its magic, choosing items to be sent to customers’ selected Blu Ports.
Blu currently handles”tens of thousands” of parcels each week, but has got the capacity to do much more. Its robotic picking process is capable of meeting up to 200 orders for one hour. This level of productivity is within reach for any company willing to make the investment – for, after all, Blu’s system wasn’t developed from scratch. The firm uses a proven automated storage and handling system, none that it developed in-house.
With such options easily available on the current market, carrying the step towards automation need not be daunting. In fact, automation is comparatively straightforward, said Mr Dadlani: “It’s quite easy to automate. It is not easy to incorporate.” The true challenge is to go beyond just adopting digital automation or technology, he added.
Instead, companies should take a look at their whole business process, from front-end to back-end, and consider how integration can be achieved along that string. Integrating internal systems helps with efficiency, like making sure that the accounting and human resources systems are linked. In the beginning, Blu benefited greatly from Spring Singapore’s Capability Development Grant, which it exploited for the initial set-up of all its systems.
As a young start-up that began with electronic solutions in mind, Blu might not look like an obvious illustration of transformation within the retail or logistics businesses. Yet its story is part of a larger picture of business transformation. After all, the market niche which Blu attempts to fill is one that has opened up, as a result of the rise of internet retail.
By providing end-to-end solutions, it has also helped conventional retailers to catch the e-commerce wave. Retailers with no experience in selling on the internet can tap bluPortal to explore that new sales channel since the machine handles everything from order management to fulfilment. Beyond retail, Blu is part of improvements from the logistics industry too. Automated self-collection points like Blu’s represent a growing trend of allowing customers to choose where and when they want to receive their parcels.
BluPort delivery is available even to companies that have not become direct spouses with Blu. “We realised we can not integrate with everyone,” said Mr Dadlani. “So the issue was, how exactly do we allow consumers to shop everywhere but still utilize the Blu Port?” Last October, the company launched Blu Gate – its response to this question. By providing a special delivery address, clients can choose bluPort delivery using any internet shopping check-out. This brings the ease of self-service pick-up to a larger consumer base, furthering the advantage of this trend in last-mile logistics.
Apart from being a part of a rising tendency, Blu expects to make new niches of its own. Last October, it launched a pilot of Blu Chill: a temperature-controlled self-collection terminal. Situated in Downtown Gallery in the Central Business District, it is mainly a proof-of-concept for now but has been used by shared cooking area OUE Social Kitchen for its pick-up of meals. “We are linking up with mates who want to provide it as a trial choice in their check-out procedure,” said Mr Dadlani.
Blu isn’t restricting itself to retail, he added. All things considered, Blu Ports are helpful for”virtually anything that requires effective distribution”. This Chinese New Year, Blu tied up with Nestlé for its food-and-drink company’s festive salvation effort. Clients could pick up redemption things like cookware from Blu Ports. Mr Dadlani doesn’t even enjoy talking to BluPorts as”self-collection” things, as doing this”constrains the perspective a lot of”. In the end, they could function as drop-off points also. He envisions one day moving to the”customer-to-customer” section, where a single Blu user could drop an item for another one to pick up.
In the future, Blu could even go full circle, from e-commerce back to bodily stores. Mr Dadlani imagines another potential usage: logistical support for the on-site stock. “Quick fulfilment can support brick-and-mortar,” he says. A clothes retailer, for instance, could opt to hold less stock in the store itself. When stocks are running low, a quick delivery could be arranged to a local Blu Port.
Talk of Blu-sky thinking.