"Our customers also shop online and then offline again"

© Emmas Enkel

Sebastian Diehl: "On average there are more online purchases than offline purchases."

Since October 2011, mom-and-pop’s grandchildren (in German: “Tante Emmas Enkel“ after the German term “Tante Emma Laden“ for a mom-and-pop store), provide a timeless shopping experience. Associates dressed in green aprons, simple wooden wall shelves, paper bags and a “parlor“ on the sales floor provide a rustic ambiance. The whole thing is paired with modern technology and an online shop. This way, nothing is standing in the way of shopping through all channels. Sebastian Diehl, one of the two founders of “Emmas Enkel“ (Emma’s Grandchildren), tells us more about the idea behind the store.

What makes the concept of Emmas Enkel so special?

That’s clearly our multi-channel approach. It was crucial for us to provide every customer with a shopping channel that best suits his/her present life situation and to make it very usable. At our store, you can stop by, shop on location, and take your purchases with you; you can also order online and have the items delivered; you can order online and pick the items up in the store or you can also buy at the store and have things delivered to you. The concept is as flexible as anyone may need at the time.

We already had this idea a long time ago when the mom-and-pop stores here at home in Germany kept disappearing. Back then, it really bothered Benjamin Brüser, with whom I cofounded Emmas Enkel and me that these beautiful authentic stores eventually had disappeared. Of course, there were good reasons why they became extinct. They simply were no longer up to date. Thanks to our studies and work experience abroad, the distance to Germany had led us to the idea to reinterpret a mom-and-pop store or small corner store, which still works as a concept in other countries with a little more zest.

When ecommerce emerged, it made sense to combine the store concept with an online shop. Once mobile commerce joined the mix, we said to ourselves it’s now or never.

What is the percentage of online and retail store sales?

Generally, this is not a real indicator for us. We view these channels as equal to each other. At the moment, it also really is that way. We sell just over 50% online and a little less offline. However, this is also because on average there are more online purchases than offline purchases. Sometimes our customers also shop online and then offline again.

Many customers first stop by at the store to gain trust in our products. Once they have seen that our fruit is really fresh and the refrigerated display case looks like you actually want to buy products that need refrigeration from there, they also order online. Another aspect that is just as important as trust is that people usually want to have groceries the same day and when you buy online, you also want to get everything at once: the beverages, the fruit and vegetables and also the frozen foods. In pure online retail, this presents some issues of course. This is why we favor this multi-channel approach to be able to offer everything from one source.

What differences do you see in online shopping between men and women? Are your categories in the online shop aimed at this?

Women prefer to look around and like to get inspired. Men actually prefer to use the search function and look specifically for the product on their shopping list. We are prepared for both cases. We have categories and themes, respectively, you can shop by, like for instance soccer, barbecue and chill, girls’ night out or spontaneous visit.

© Emmas Enkel

What role do social networks like Facebook play?

The physical contact is simply there when you are at the store. We directly consult customers there. Our manager on site is a chef. He is there to support you in any possible way in terms of the products. Online as well as offline, we are mostly concerned with product recommendations and customer requests. The entire communication pertaining to Emmas Enkel takes place via social networks. Shopping cart themes that can be found in our online shop for example, also started through online communication with our customers.

How important is face-to-face contact with your customers for you?
It is very important to us, otherwise we would have just launched an online shop. Even though we use social media and here particularly Facebook to achieve online communication, nothing beats offline communication. We keep having customers come to the store, who first ordered online and then stop by to have their first look around the store.

Do you have a different selection from other food retailers?

We offer a full range of products and by now have 2,800 items in our selection. Those quickly become more; right now, we are adding 20 additional types of tea for instance. We are very flexible in this case and also listen to our customers’ suggestions. Thanks to well-functioning supply chains, nowadays this is no longer a problem. We simply order the products for the customers, if they work out, we keep them, and if not, we no longer offer them. This is a dynamic process, which is very manageable in terms of handling.

We also like to work a lot with startups. Especially in the supplier area, there are many small companies that in part would also not be in a position to supply large chain stores. We sell fresh ready-to-cook meals for instance made by Youcook. This is a small startup company that is about as old as our company. Other examples are Shokomonk, Fritz Kola or MyMüsli. Yet we also team up with many small regional companies, like jam and jelly manufacturers or butcher shops for instance, who don’t want to sell products that come from industrial livestock production.

Even though we also offer very many low cost products, since Germans are very price conscious, we refrain from this when it comes to our sausage and meat products and fruit variety. We let our customers know this as well.

How is your pricing?

We take our cue from Rewe and Edeka and make sure that we are able to also offer those prices. We are usually successful in doing so. If things get too tight, we have to make due with a smaller margin. However, we have many innovative brands and we offer coffee and sandwiches in our parlor. This is also how we set ourselves apart from the competition.

Tell us something about shopping based on your recipe book!

Our plan is to create a one-click recipe cookbook where you only have to enter the number of people you would like to cook for. You will then get a recommendation with the required ingredients directly converted to our packaging units. The customer then only needs to click on the items he/she will need and adds them to the shopping cart. The purchase is then directly delivered to your home. It really doesn’t get any simpler and more convenient than this.

How do you envision the continued development of Emmas Enkel?
Right now, we are overwhelmed by the response to Emmas Enkel. The media attention is huge and established retailers are starting to take us seriously at this point. There are also many inquiries from other cities that would also like to have a store and use Emmas Enkel as a local supplier concept. There are many conceivable variations, but nothing is ripe yet for decision.

Interview by Mareike Scholze;