What's in a best before date?
These days, when people want to buy something they want to do it now, swiftly and without any fuss. And they probably want it to be delivered tomorrow.
Dan Cluderay is founder and owner of Sheffield-based Approved Food, which sells clearance food and drink. Dan refers to the ‘Amazon effect’ – when customers expect you to be Amazon Prime. Basket, check-out and through the letterbox – all within 24 hours, no glitches.
In order to meet his customers’ demands, Dan obsesses over tech. That’s why he’s got Approved Food plugged into a big leased line – 1Gbps of Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) – from Virgin Media Business.
Dan's degree in digital transformation
When Dan pitched to Sir Richard Branson at the final of #VOOM 2015, he told his story and showed us how he’s digital to the core. After being made redundant, he set up as a market trader in Yorkshire, selling perfectly good – but nearly out-of-date – food. At the same time, he was juggling a degree in software engineering.
He put theory into practice by writing his own stock control system, forecasting and analysing his burgeoning retail empire, and laying the foundations for what would become the UK’s largest online-only retailer of discount food and drink.
Now, Approved Food has more than 250,000 registered customers, a warehouse the size of a football pitch and 200 new lines, logged, sold and shipped daily. The company is moving roughly 10 million items across the UK and Europe every year.
Eating up big data
Approved Food is a business that’s fuelled by big data, with access, retrieval and interpretation the key to serving live customers, plus, the need to model buying behaviours, sales and stock control.
“The reality is that online businesses are ‘all hands to the pump’ and anyone working in e-commerce is up against the best companies in the world,” said Dan.
“Our business relies on its use of technology to maintain and scale, as well as ensuring we have security, resilience and backup wrapped around our operation. Speed is critical and our 1Gbps DIA ensures that we can work ultrafast. With thousands of queries going into our database, we’re reliant on instant access and retrieval of stock data. And when our staff are at home, our systems are still working hard for us, so we always have access to the most up-to-date information.”
During an average shift, 45,000 items are handpicked from the warehouse. Finding the physical location of each one is dependent on a successful database query. The business’s 60 staff are armed with iPads - and delivery times to the customer are reliant on how quickly they can react to the orders coming in. Dan knows the potential impact on time, resource and wages if just one second was added to the process.
If Approved Food’s e-commerce system were to lose service, the first 24 hours would be critical: after five days they’d probably have to wave goodbye to the business. Losing e-commerce capability and access to data is not an option.
Dan said: “We operated two back-end systems: one dedicated to customers and selling, the other, housed locally in our warehouse, dedicated to marketing intelligence and stock queries. That was our safety net. We knew that if we had a problem, with a separate local system, the customer experience wouldn’t be impacted.
“But we were rapidly running out of server space and I often questioned what we would do about backup – we didn’t possess physical security or offer resilience in case of an outage. That was a plate I didn’t want to be spinning. And that’s where Virgin Media Business changed our life.”
With a 1Gbps uncontended line, boasting symmetrical upload and download speeds, Dan was able to move his systems to the cloud. All of a sudden, backup, security and lack of database space were catered for. Plus lightning fast speed to run stock queries. For a challenger brand competing with the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Dan and the team need to use their tech to push boundaries and not only keep up with, but stay one step ahead of the competition.
Dan’s belief in the power of digital to make his business thrive doesn’t stop there. There’s A.I. on the horizon and more cloud capacity than Dan could dream of. The stock on sale may be near its sell-by date - the technology is anything but.