Can A French Grocery Store Teach You To Be A Better Product Manager?

by drjim on April 12, 2010

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Then Try, Try Again

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Then Try, Try Again

The Grocery Problem

So what’s the most exciting thing that you did last week? I have no idea what your answer might be, but I’m willing to bet good money that going to the grocery store was not high on your list. Over in France the product managers at a company called Chronodrive have figured out a way to solve this problem. What makes their solution unique is that it actually works unlike so many other attempts in the past (can anyone say “Pets.com”?) Would you like to know what they did?

What The Product Managers Realized

All good product managers start at the same point: where the customer is feeling the pain. It really wasn’t hard to figure this one out – nobody has enough time anymore and so shopping for food has gone from a mild annoyance to a major inconvenience.

I know what you’re thinking: why not use the Internet to solve this problem? Well good thought, but that’s not much of a solution. It turns out that other French product managers had that same thought. There was a problem with those other products though. Ordering groceries online and then having them delivered to your house ended up having a lot of drawbacks: it cost roughly 15% more than the old way of doing it yourself and the delivery times were only during business hours which was a big inconvenience if you worked.

Hmm, so what’s a product manager to do? The kids at Chronodrive went back to the drawing board and had the courage to say “maybe the Internet is really only part of the solution” . What they came up with was a hybrid solution that balanced the high-tech approach with just a bit of McDonald’s ingenuity.

The way that their product works is that you go online and figure out what grocery items you want to order. You then drive to a Chronodrive store and, without having to get out of your car, they load you up and you drive away. That’s it – your shopping time has shrunk to almost nothing.

Why This Solution Works When So Many Others Haven’t

It can’t be that easy you may be saying to yourself. You’d be right: there’s a lot more going on here than initially meets the product manager’s eye. You get to pick what time you want to pick up your order – this way they know what to have ready to be loaded. You can pick up your order within two hours of placing it online. They also guarantee that they will deliver your order to your car within 5 minutes of you pulling up.

You start to see the level of detail that has gone into planning this product’s features as you dive in to the offering just a bit further. Orders will be held for up to 24 hours because they realize that things can come up that prevent you from dropping by when you said that you would. Additionally, they have terminals at the pickup locations that allow you to place an order for any of the 500 products that are available for immediate delivery (the things that you forgot to put on your list!)

The numbers show that Chronodrive has created a great product. They have over 130,000 regular customers and have just opened their 16th store.

What All Of This Means For You

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Internet is a great tool, but it’s not the solution to every problem. Many firms in many different countries tried to solve the grocery story problem using a brute-force Internet all-the-way method and they failed big time.

Chronodrive took a different approach. They started with the customer’s problems (not enough time, not enough money) and asked themselves how the Internet could play a role in solving both of these issues at the same time.

As product managers we need to make sure that we don’t get seduced by all of the Internet hype that can invade our product planning discussions. Instead, we need to keep a steady focus on our customers and make sure that we deliver products that solve problems first, and are Internet enabled second.

Question For You: If a grocery shopping system like Chronodrive’s was available where you live, would you use it over the traditional grocery stores?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the global recession starts to fade away, product managers who are searching for a new job are starting to feel some new hope and product managers who still have jobs are starting to get the itch to take a look around at what other opportunities there might be out there. Sounds like it’s time to get some resumes in order…

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Falkun April 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

It’s a little bit disturbing how often you misspell “Manager” as “Manger”, especially given that this blog is about Product Management, not Mangement…
If you do no other spell check, you should really get that one right.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson April 15, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Falkun: well, there’s really no disagreeing with that. A careful look will reveal the root of my problem: “manger” is a valid word (it’s like a barn). No spell checker in the world is going to catch that one. If I take the time to look for it specifically, then I can catch it. Hmm, maybe I need to start taking some more time — clearly this is a Q/A issue!

Reply

Maria April 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I completely agree with Falkun…you really need to improve this — it’s really annoying…why don’t you start with fixing the spelling errors on this article today?

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson April 18, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Maria: well, ok. So here’s the deal — based on your request, I’ve gone back and cleaned up the “French Grocery” post. I then went ahead and double checked the posts that will be coming up over the next few weeks and cleaned them up also (don’t even ask me how many “mangers” I found!) I promise to do a better job of double checking myself going forward. From a product management point-of-view, it’s all about making the product better based on customer feedback. Let’s see if I can do a good job of doing this…

Reply

Meredith May 11, 2010 at 10:00 am

“Manger” kind of worked here for me. It’s the French verb “to eat” so ironically worked well for a grocery-centric PM.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson May 14, 2010 at 11:28 am

Meredith: well enjoy my misspellings for now ’cause my new quality control system has been put in place and they will soon be a thing of the past! Je suis perfect!

Aditya April 13, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Harris Teeter does it too.

Reply

josh duncan April 15, 2010 at 7:33 am

Jim,

Thanks for the great article.

I really like the emphasis here of starting where the customer is feeling the pain and finding a solution that is valuable to the customer.

Innovation and new technology are great but not if it is transferring one pain to another.

Thanks,

Josh

Reply

Gaurav Jain April 22, 2010 at 2:30 am

Innovative thinking.

But, I am thinking.. is this type of thinking forte of product managers in startups and mid-size companies who feel the crunch?

I am sure such innovative ideas also help in boosting the revenue generation in smooth waters also.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson April 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Gaurav: the key to this story is that the product managers at the French grocery store didn’t let past failures detour them from using the Internet to make their product easier to use. This is a key lesson that product managers at both startups and mid-sized companies can use…

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