Tell us about the inception of InstaShop; what is it and how did it come to be?
InstaShop, as an idea, was with me for a while. Being myself, a quite busy young professional working long hours, I felt the need for a reliable on-demand grocery service to buy me some extra free time to do the things I enjoy. I used to order basic items from the local grocery by phone, but most times, the experience was quite bad – with wrong items delivered or the order simply never arriving; this frustration is exactly what triggered the idea of InstaShop.
I wanted to avoid the long supermarket lines and the traffic on the way. I realised there was plenty of space to uplift the service level with the use of technology, so here we are! InstaShop aims to deliver convenience without eating into personal time, a few clicks are all that is needed to have your groceries delivered home in about 60 minutes.
Can you tell us about your education and professional experience, and how that has aided in your endeavor?
I hold a diploma in Mechanical Engineering & a MScBA in General Management and I had started another masters in Innovation Management that thankfully I dropped out of; academia started becoming too much for me and I needed something more hands on.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, each person forms their own journey. I hadn’t started pursuing my entrepreneurial dreams until I was 28 years old; before that, I was working for Philips for 4 years. I am grateful of the years spent working for my prior multinational employer as I learnt so many things I can put to work today. For example, from a company of that size and maturity, you understand how important processes are; and on the downside, how too many processes can hinder the speed of execution and transformation.
There are some other grocery shopping apps out there, how do you stand out from the rest?
It is all about execution. Get the right items in the right condition at the promised time to the user and you are good, it sounds much easier than it actually is, since so many things can go wrong; even more when it needs to be done at large scale across countries and considering the inherit limitations of the grocery industry such as frequently missing items and inadequate inventory management.
There are certain elements that differentiate InstaShop from other services, to start of course I would need to mention the super fast delivery of about 60 minutes. Yet that alone is not really a defendable differentiation; it only becomes meaningful in combination with other differentiators such as the extremely easy and intuitive ordering user experience, the fast well-trained customer care team, the strict quality assurance standards and so on.
However, the most important differentiator is our team and company culture. We really enjoy working together and feel we are on a true mission; one to help small and larger retailers come online, a mission to ease the lives of our users by providing a reliable service that becomes indispensable. Our customers are our top priority and our team is working with an endless passion for operations, technology and any area of improvement opportunity we identify until we manage to satisfy even the most demanding of our users.
What is the most recent feature the app has been updated with and how has it improved user experience?
The most important feature added recently in the Bahrain market I would say is the marketplace. InstaShop was introduced in Bahrain back in 2016 having only 2 supermarket options on the platform, which in due time proved to be a faulty decision. As a company, we strive for the convenience of our customers which is why we re-launched the service almost a year ago, adding all the well-known supermarkets in the country in order to give our users the options they needed. We are constantly striving to improve and keep adding more stores.
On top of that major decision, we have incorporated features such as online payment directly on the InstaShop app and in-app substitution.
What’s next? Where is InstaShop heading to? What is the vision?
We aspire to be the largest on-demand shopping service in MENA and a sizable global player that focuses on delivering top customer service. Being a fast-growing start-up or to use another term, a scale-up means that our company never sleeps both when it comes to operations and business. We are always looking for new opportunities and partnerships, we aspire to lead the way when it comes to how bring brick and mortar supermarkets join the digital era.
We are keeping an ambitious direction in 2020 to further expand in countries in the Middle East and beyond. 2020 is also the year that we invest in more services beyond groceries, an endeavor that has already proved to be successful in UAE, Lebanon and Bahrain with pet supplies, butchery products and pharmacy delivery.
What is your opinion on the eCommerce trends, especially on grocery eCommerce trends?
The online e-commerce industry is constantly changing; what may be popular today, suddenly becomes irrelevant the next day. New features and technologies are introduced on a daily basis and are picked up by users quickly. It is important to not only adapt but also forecast emerging trends to improve user experience and stay relevant.
I am a firm believer that a successful and healthy transition of the grocery segment online can only happen through a very close collaboration of brick and mortar partners and online players like InstaShop. Many offline players, especially with narrow-minded traditional management, tend to see technology as an existential threat. For me, it is quite clear that it will not be the case that offline players will disappear, nor those online players will have the absolute dominance of the future grocery landscape. The industry should evolve into finding a healthy balance within the context of an unbiased online marketplace where competition can function to maximize the service quality for the end-user.
When it comes to growth, it is clear by now that brick and mortar supermarkets cannot simply rely on traditional industry techniques that were prevalent in the 1990s and the 2000s. In that period, growth was based on launching more shops or doing conventional marketing such as TV ads, leaflet distributions.
Today, growth is becoming more and more about joining the right marketplaces. And I will emphasize the word “right” as if you end up partnering with the wrong player, you may end up losing precious time, not getting the much-needed learnings and revenue, ending-up at the tail of the race of transformation, which may very well spell-out your demise.
A brand or a supermarket may, in fact, be dictated solely based on whether they have an online presence in the right marketplace or not. A trending on-demand app culture has been taking over the millennial generation.
John Tsioris is the founder & CEO of InstaShop, the leading grocery shopping app in the MENA, operating in the region since 2015 and having been nominated for 3 consecutive years as one of the most promising startups in the Arab world by Forbes.
John holds a bachelor & master degree in Mechanical Engineering along with MScBA in General Management; he led the global competitive intelligence of PHILIPS Consumer Lifestyle for 2 years & set up the marketing Intelligence department for the Middle East & Turkey Lighting organization, while he also has prior experience in the startup world having founded a voice social network application