The largest Czech online shop needed just two and a half days to redesign all of its 38 branches in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. It did so to ensure that employees and customers felt safe when purchases were being made. It disinfected the exposed areas five times a day, minimized physical contact and made product dispatch safe with the help of protective covers. “We’re a company that can deal with crises. We can react extremely flexibly in these situations, and it always makes us much more resilient,” says Miroslav Kövary, Director of the Alza sales network.
The extraordinary nature of the whole situation led Alza, for the first time, to permit another enterprise – Zásilkovna – to use its delivery lockers, known as AlzaBoxes. From March to June, locker occupancy rates jumped 130 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, and the company delivered hundreds of thousands of shipments this way. Even with this handover method, it kept hygiene regulations in mind; drivers disinfected the lockers each time they made a delivery. Alza has also actively engaged in the nationwide fight against the spread of COVID-19. Together with the company of Josef Průša (a manufacturer of 3D printers), it printed protective visors at its branches and donated thousands of masks and respirators to non-profit organizations and hospitals. “I saw our role in society not just as a business but also as offering a speedy logistics link between suppliers and customers. I think that we’ve progressed a lot in terms of our responsibility and our role in society,” adds Kövary.
„In 60 hours, we managed to turn all our shops into contactless centres. Employees sit in the background and serve customers via web cameras.“Miroslav Kövary, Director of the Alza sales network
In the spring, the number of online or non-cash transactions doubled to more than half of the total number of payments. Compared with normal levels, the night pick-up point in Prague’s Holešovice district recorded far higher visitor numbers. The pandemic also prompted a complete overhaul of all communication with the customer. Hundreds of templates are undergoing checking, and the company’s perception of the customer has altered. “For instance, when monitoring delivery quality, we wondered what percentage of packages we couldn’t deliver on time. Today, we have more precise insights, which means we can say that we weren’t able to serve 25 customers on time,” explains the director.
Alza monitors customer experience using eight key indicators; because each nation where it has a presence has specific characteristics, the online retailer does so separately for the Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Austrian markets. In addition, based on the principle of a matrix structure, a customer retention task force known as RAPUZA, composed of representatives from various departments, reports to Kövary. “In this regard, I don’t think it’s a good idea to create a separate body. It never works that well,” he adds.
Kövary says that Alza has made tremendous progress this year across all departments. “For example, we’re delivering much faster. What’s more, we focus more on ensuring that from the outset, our promises to customers about the delivery period are realistic. We use all feedback from the call centre to adjust processes, and our partnership with carriers and external partners has improved,” Kövary explains.
The company, which is represented by a familiar Martian figure in advertising, has big plans for the future and is embarking on the largest expansion of the AlzaBox network so far. It is aiming at a fivefold increase in the current number of boxes within months. By the end of the year, Alza wants to have 600 boxes in the Czech Republic and 400 in Slovakia and Hungary. “During the pandemic, we had a chance to see whether AlzaBoxes could serve as a platform for Czech and European online commerce. The answer was a definite yes,” he remarks, outlining the reasons for the huge expansion.
The pandemic also offered Alza a chance to recruit quality employees. “The labour market became flexible and potential recruits became available, either on a short or long-term basis. The standard of candidates has gone up unbelievably and is exactly at the level we need,” explains Kövary. Employees can now work from home indefinitely, and Alza has moved most training online. As a thank you for the extraordinary effort, especially in the first half of the year, it introduced a unique benefit. The best employees can use the company’s Tesla cars for business purposes for a month.