Wed. Apr 24th, 2019

In the guts of 'the hive', the secret weapon of Mercadona for the 'online' battle | Economy

In the guts of 'the hive', the secret weapon of Mercadona for the 'online' battle | Economy


General view of the 'hive' of Mercadona in Valencia from the upper silver. In video, Juan Roig, president of Mercadona, announced the benefits of 2018.

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In Mercadona Customers are called "bosses" and stores destined for Internet shopping have been called "hives". Juan Roig likes that in his company things are done his way. Until now, the orders they received to fill the shopping cart online were served and prepared in the store closest to the customer. But in Valencia, in a radius of 40 kilometers, 97 towns and 134 postal codes, when customers place an order, it is already in one of their hives where they prepare them. It is a macro warehouse, in the style of those who have operators on-line like Amazon and others big chains like Carrefour, but with its own system, a model that the largest supermarket chain in Spain has decided to expand little by little through the big cities. It is predicted that to the one of Valencia they are added, between 2019 and 2021, two beehives in Madrid and two in Barcelona (first of this city, the next month of June). Later (still without a fixed date), they want to open these special warehouses in A Coruña, Bilbao, Zaragoza, Palma, Alicante, Murcia, Seville, Malaga and Las Palmas.

Two years ago, Juan Roig, president of Mercadona, pronounced that resounding "our website is crap" in the middle of the results press conference. The head of this company advanced the following year that they were going to embark on a renewal of the page and a complete return to the sale by Internet who captains his own daughter, Juana Roig. And a day before showing the accounts of 2018, the company has invited a group of media, including EL PAÍS, to know the bowels of their project on-line, which revolves around these specialized stores. Once in the warehouse, the company only allows the warehouse to be photographed from the offices above and from a distance.

The bowels of the hive

In the nave of the first hive of Mercadona, 13,000 square meters in the polygon of Vara de Quart in Valencia, at seven o'clock in the afternoon there is an almost total calm. It's the valley hour. At ten o'clock at night the march really begins. Because the chain allows you to place orders during the 24 hours, which will be received the day after they are made. That's why, while in normal supermarkets, life starts in the morning, in the hive it is during the night where everything starts. They receive about 800 orders a day on average.

For the cycle to work, the baskets with the orders begin to be prepared after 10 o'clock at night. There they begin to select the packaged dry products from the shelves. At 3 o'clock in the morning the frescoes will be added, arriving at that time each day to the ship in trucks. Then the bakery products, which are baked from 5 in the morning, will be added. And in the end, the frozen ones. A well-greased process that will allow, if there are no failures, that the first customers receive their deliveries at 7 o'clock in the morning. That schedule, says the company, has been especially applauded by working parents, who have the purchase at home before they even start the day and take the children to school. The last deliveries are made at 10 o'clock at night. And everything starts again.

The hive shares a building with a general services space on the top floor (the IT area, the customer service area where 12 people answer calls or customer chats and other office spaces). It also has a small photography studio where tripods and flashes are prepared. There the photos of the products sold on the website are made. The plant below is occupied by the huge warehouse with a delivery dock, all in a building that was built for the project with an investment of close to 12 million euros and which began operating in May. Some 160 people work there. In total, there are about 220 dedicated employees at the Mercadona website.

Exterior view of the Mercadona hive, the store for online 'orders' of Valencia
Exterior view of the Mercadona hive, the store for online 'orders' of Valencia

Although the project is based on technology and electronic commerce, the first impression is that the hive is really like a supermarket. A huge one in which they work with about 8,000 references. Inside an industrial warehouse. Throughout, 10 aisles with shelves on the sides occupy the space. Above, a series of posters in turn divides these corridors into modules. And on every shelf, they wait for all the products. On one side of the space, frozen fridges. In the other, cameras for the frescoes, the meat and fish area and a bakery area. And in the front, a large and bare space, with yellow and white lines painted on the floor, next to the large warehouse doors. There the boxes towers will be placed with the orders already prepared to be loaded in the vans, a fleet of about 40 vehicles.

7.21 euros for another to fill the car

Mercadona accepts orders on-line if the purchase is, at least, 50 euros. And it charges the client 7.21 euros for expenses of managing the order. The system is simple: a worker makes the purchase of six customers more or less in one hour. No robotic arms or mechanical shelves. A person, in a kind of mechanical mule, runs through every aisle in every aisle. In the back it has six boxes, each one dedicated to an order, with a barcode that identifies it. On the front of your transport, a screen is showing photos and codes of the closest product you should take to add it to one of those six orders. Take a barcode reader with which you scan. The computer programs have been developed in the house. A bottle of wine appears on your screen. Next, the code of the shelf where it is appears. He has her almost at his side. He takes it, passes it through the scanner. Beep. A green mark appears on the screen. He puts it in the box. Beep. A second check. And a photo appears with the next product of the order, which is a few meters ahead.

In the central area, dry and grooming products are prepared. There is an apparent order (the cleaning things in one area, the fragile products in another, the resistant packages in the center), but at the time, the order is strange, not as logical as in a normal supermarket: next to a pile of pickled tuna cans there are two muesli boxes. And in front, olives and custard in powder. The products, explain in the company, have been placed so that there is no confusion. They never put two things on the side that resemble each other. The objective is that the worker who makes the purchase, at a glance, can distinguish what is indicated on the screen without fear of taking another similar product but, for example, of another brand or of another size to that of the chosen one.

On the sides, in the small sub-stores for fruit and vegetables, another part of that order will be prepared. And the same with meat and fish. And with the bakery. In the end, all the parts of the order of the same customer will end up in the same van, but even there they travel separately, because they have three zones at different temperatures: behind the dry ones are placed, in the center the fresh products at 12 degrees and in the front, frozen, in a cold room.

The company says that, despite serving 97 Valencian populations already, the hive is still an experiment. A kind of laboratory where they work since May but in which they make changes every day. The objective is to refine the system as they extend it to other cities, so that the on-line, the new work horse of the distribution, is profitable, in spite of the investment that supposes and of the very low margins of profit with what works in the sale of feeding. Juan Roig already said last year that the bet in Mercadona will continue to be the physical storebecause it is what gives money. "But you do not have to go to Harvard to know that the sale on-line It's there, "he finished.

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