PEOPLE | Jan 24, 2020

Can you buy Food & Grocery online? An interview with the CEO and the CTO of Digitelematica

Federico dell’Acqua and Norberto Viganò on the present and future of e-commerce for the large-scale retail channel

Food is the main item of expenditure for Italian consumers, yet the situation, in the same sector but online, is very different. According to the B2C eCommerce Observatory of the Politecnico di Milano, in 2019 the online Food & Grocery market is worth almost 1.6 billion euro, a figure which represents about 5% of the entire eCommerce demand (31.5 billion euro, a growth of 15% compared with 2018). A market which is significantly lower than that of more advanced international markets such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the US.

One of the limits of the diffusion of the ecommerce in the Food sector is its non-widespread and homogeneous territorial coverage at municipal and regional level. According to the data of the Observatory, just over two thirds of Italians can currently shop online from supermarkets given the non-homogeneous coverage of the territory.

With Digitelematica we began working for the world of large-scale food distribution –  says the CEO Federico dell’Acqua – because we realized that it was a booming sector where the physical distance between headquarters and sales outlets in terms of information had to be bridged. The first software systems were, in fact, an Intranet for the points of sale, that is, they bridged the distances between the various company sectors. We subsequently thought it was time to provide the information to end customers and also to allow internet shopping, long before the mobile revolution”.

“Digetelematica was born because of friendship and the love of technology” continues dell’Acqua – “Norberto ViganòCTO of Digitelematica, and I have been friends for a very long time. We met once again at university and began to build the first websites for customers, small local businesses in our native area, Brianza. Continuing with an entrepreneurial idea was a logical consequence of the long time spent together planning. When we finished university, we teamed up with Rossella Russo, already a fellow companion at university, who has endured us, mediated our differences and helped us all these years. The initial idea was to continue developing software, using the new technologies which had fascinated us during our studies. Then things started to evolve”.

Did Digitelematica grow constantly or did you make the famous “qualitative leap”?

“Actually, – Norberto replies – we definitely shifted up a gear at the end of 2013. We had begun well, but then we needed to slow down to understand what we really wanted to do, we took some time and started again thanks to consolidating one of the ideas we had developed with greater energy: e-commerce for the large-scale retail channel. We were certain we wanted to provide our customers with a product which would follow all the processes from procurement to sales and that would help supermarkets to improve and optimize their management.”

Do you remember a particular client from whom you learned a lot?

“There are two fundamental customers in our history: the first is MD, a still-current customer which allowed us to start; the second is Tigros which made us grow. I must say that they taught us a lot, both as concerns ideas on how to develop the business and from the point of view of business growth.”

How much and what can we learn from other European and non-European countries for online Food & Grocery?

“There are several innovative projects to look at with interest, such as Volvo’s for delivering the shopping directly to your car trunk, or the trials in Tallin for the last mile delivery of products via drones on wheels. My big obsession – says Federico – is robotic picking via item code, but for now it still remains a dream given the myriad of product types we manage.”

What are the development scenarios for this sector?

“Future scenarios primarily concern the big challenge of voice. Vocal assistants will be able to help us in everyday life and will not simply receive a list of products, but will be able to recommend new products, healthy foods for our diet or performing ones for our daily physical activity. We will be able to do our shopping simply by talking with our voice assistant, asking what is missing at home or which products are on offer.

In short, the world of online shopping opens our eyes to many different scenarios, all equally interesting. The systems for recognizing visual products will also become part of our lives and of our shopping in physical stores, allowing us to find out the life of the product, from birth to cart, and to do our shopping faster by avoiding going through the checkout.”