Three years ago, nobody would have thought that shopping for groceries in your underwear would be acceptable. Today, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, it is. The Web has afforded people the luxury of shopping in their underwear, robe, Neru jacket
whatever outfit they prefer - in the privacy of their own homes.
Take Internet start-up homeruns.com, for example. The Internet-based grocer has yet to implement a "no shoes, no shirt, no service" policy. Fashion is not an issue for the nearly five-year-old company. Getting 660,000 Boston-area residents to try its Web site is. The 400-employee company was launched in late 1995 and made its first delivery in 1996. Today, homeruns.com offers 7,300 items and takes orders via phone, fax, and Web. Orders of $60 or more dont pay a delivery fee, and customers can even designate a two-hour delivery window. "In about three months, we have doubled in size," reports Ray Giandrea Jr., vice president information technology at homeruns.com. "Our average order is just over $100, and we are delivering about 5,000 orders each week."
Puzzle Pieces: Separate Software Becomes Unified System
Despite the companys established success, homeruns.com knew that some areas of its business were not going to accommodate future growth. Specifically, the company had a cumbersome and disconnected technology infrastructure. By early fall of 1996, the company knew it needed an outside solutions provider. It began a search.
At the time, homeruns.com was using self-installed, third-party solutions, such as catalog order entry and vehicle routing software. In order to make the programs work together, homeruns.com was using makeshift processes to download important data. These developments were less than complex: staff members were creating files on diskette and popping them in and out of various systems to transfer information. "At that point, the company heads were getting worried," remembers Giandrea. "They estimated that our current systems and processes would only support our growth for another 18 months. We immediately started looking for a means of supporting that development."
After evaluating several vendors, Giandrea came upon Wakefield, MA-based Edgewater Technology, a consulting and systems integration firm specializing in Internet-related solutions.
In Giandreas words, Edgewater came in and made the systems "talk electronically." Edgewaters original work with homeruns.com involved an eight-month project designed to unify the Web companys systems. When finished, nearly three quarters of homeruns.coms systems had been rebuilt. "Because of Edgewaters work with us, we have developed quite a proprietary environment," remarks Giandrea. "We had a lot of unique and dynamic needs."
The redesign of the systems allowed homeruns.com to offer such features as integrated inventory. Now, customers can tell the stock status of an item at the point of entry. It might seem insignificant, but those kinds of features keep customers loyal. Rather than homeruns.com omitting an expected item, customers can now make their own substitution - without any surprises.
Unified System Sets Foundation For Expansion
Because of the success of homeruns.com in Boston, the company has made plans to expand to other cities in the near future. "We havent yet determined all the cities," says Giandrea, "but we plan on being in 20 different cities in the next 36 months. We have been extremely methodical with our operation in Boston. We want to have our operation perfected before taking up expansion plans."
Giandrea describes Internet-based grocery shopping as the hottest home-shopping market around today. "There are four other legitimate players in our Boston market," he remarks, "but start-ups are popping up so fast, you can hardly keep track."
In support of his statements regarding the popularity of Web-based grocery shopping, Giandrea also mentions one client who shops for groceries while on business trips - so as not to come home to an empty refrigerator. "We had one client who was on business in Tokyo for three weeks. He called homeruns.com from Tokyo and placed his order. An hour and a half after he arrived home, he received his delivery." Choosing the Web-based shopping was definitely wiser than gambling on the freshness of Sushi through the 20-hour flight to Boston.
There you have it. Choices in todays Internet society abound: shop at home, shop in the store, shop while on business, or shop in your underwear. Just dont cross wires on those options: store shopping in your underwear is still unacceptable - at least for now. Then again, who knows what the next level of Internet development will bring?
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at DougC@corrypub.com.