Founded in 1996, UNFI is the leading national distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods in the United States and Canada, making more than 60,000 products available to more than 49,000 customers – grocery stores, organic specialty foods markets and restaurants – including national brands Whole Foods and Safeway. The company prides itself on providing innovative, value-added services.
Unfortunately, UNFI faced a business challenge common among decades-old industries who have followed the same processes for years. Its archaic ordering system was cumbersome and inefficient, frustrating UNFI’s customers. The process involved customers first consulting a web-based catalog containing UNFI’s extensive product list on a mobile browser, locating a product code and manually entering it along with a customer ID and product quantity on a touch-tone phone. You can imagine an employee rushing to complete orders, typing in the wrong customer ID number and starting over numerous times, wasting valuable time and money. With so many customers unhappy with the inefficient ordering process, UNFI knew they needed a modern technology-based solution to overcome this barrier.
UNFI partnered with Buyer’s Best Friend, a consumer packaged goods company with a proprietary hardware/software product that solved a component of UNFI’s challenge. Through the partnership, UNFI would have access to Buyer’s Best Friend’s scan gun ordering solution. UNFI determined a mobile app experience that integrated with the scan gun hardware was the answer to its challenge.
UNFI reached out to stable|kernel in March 2014 to improve their initial proof-of-concept product. We iterated on the existing code base to create iUNFI, a direct vendor support iOS mobile application that integrated with Buyer’s Best Friend’s scan gun hardware. We also integrated with a camera-based barcode scanner to make scanning codes more efficient which solved marked problems for smaller shops. Customers used the app to scan barcodes of different products they need restocked and then conveniently enter the desired quantity. This information funneled into an existing cloud-based order management solution. The app also allowed users to:
- track orders, promotions and pricing totals in real time
- process product returns
- schedule future orders
- access suggested retail pricing across chains
- track purchase histories across chains
- help warehouses determine appropriate retail carriers for each product
All of the app’s functions can be used without wireless Internet access and are applicable to many types of retail environments including restaurant stock rooms, convenience stores, specialty markets and more. It was paramount for the app to be used without connectivity as stores often had connectivity ‘dead-zones’ that the user may not be aware of. We accomplished this by using a sophisticated local caching mechanism that synchronizes data with catalogs as they were updated and as the orders were being processed.