The ice cream business model has long needed an overhaul, often relying on manual processes to determine when to reorder and deliver a new batch of product.
Unilever has transformed this space, launching a frictionless, digital tool that allows retailers to easily stock up on ice cream whenever needed. Additionally, the company has rolled out several innovative pilots, including smart freezers that automatically detect out-of-stocks, location data-optimized delivery, and automated WhatsApp chatbot functionality to communicate inventory needs.
Unilever’s approach for retail partners centers on an e-commerce app — Ice Cream ERTM or electronic route to market — through which retailers can order stock, transfer payment electronically, monitor selling stock, and browser offers and discounts.
According to the company, nearly 40% of Unilever’s retail partners are equipped with the app.
“We’re seeing order values and frequency of purchase increase,” said Emma Carrera, director, digital selling at Unilever's retail partnerships segment, in a statement. “This is because retailers can purchase 24/7. And there is also a reduction in stores running out of stock. That reduction of out of stock, plus the possibility of pushing our core products more effectively, is seeing the average order value increase.”
The app provides real-time data insights on transactions and sales, highlighting the products that consumers are showing the most interest in, and then allows retailers to use the data to provide consumers with targeted, personalized offers and recommendations to close more sales.
According to the company, the app’s functionality also includes WhatsApp chatbot messages with prompts to restock core products or send recommendations for stock levels to maximize sales.
“For Unilever’s out-of-home sales team, data also means we are able to manage our category better,” added Carrera. “We can talk to our customers directly and send reminders that keep us top of mind.”
According to Carrera, the company is working to achieve app onboarding at more than 30 markets and 80% of customers globally by 2025.
Data-Driven Pilots Underway
Unilever has launched several related pilots, all of which focus on data.
1. Digitizing the Value Chain
One launched in Turkey and is looking to use data to digitize the value chain, determining which offers and products are the most attractive to customers to increase impulse purchases. And when retailers reorder, Unilever is optimizing their deliveries, using AI and live devices for tracking purposes to ensure a smooth process.
“The journey begins with consumer apps and social media channels which serve customized offers to the mobile phone user with the aim of triggering an impulse purchase of ice cream,” said Ibrahim Gulec, head of data driven execution at Unilever, in a statement.
2. Sensing Demand With Smart Tech
The company is also testing smart in-store freezers that capture out-of-stocks and alert the store through push notifications, suggesting a quantity so they can quickly refill. Unilever said in-store smart freezers can track the success of offers for consumers and remind store owners to replenish stock.
3. Location Data for Targeted Delivery
Additionally, Estefania Lupercio, digital transformation director, LATAM, has used location data to identify which customers they could reach within a set distance of a warehouse distribution point and improve expedited delivery.
Through the pilot, 1,200 retail partners were able to make orders through a virtual sales rep via WhatsApp at any time of day. Once the order was placed, a team at the distribution hub prepared it in about 60 minutes. Unilever then delivered it in backpacks with special cooling zones in less than four hours to ensure product stability. As a result, sales increased more than 25% due to increased frequency of delivery and drop size.
“An intrinsic part of disruption relies on listening and understanding customers so we can provide something they might not know they want yet,” said Lupercio. “Our customers were not specifically asking for express delivery, but they were asking for new ways to help them maximize their revenue. And that’s exactly what we did.”
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