Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgium-based international brewing and beverage company, recorded strong growth in the second quarter—when total revenue increased year over year by 27.6% to $10.3 billion—as the company continued to increase investments in “customer-centric capabilities, innovation, and digital transformation.” In this Q&A interview, France Roy, global vice president of direct-to-consumer technology, shares how AB InBev is working with ecommerce technology to build sales and improve interactions with businesses and consumers.
DC360—Please briefly describe AB InBev’s global growth in recent years and your expected growth over the next several years. How important is a digital commerce/marketplace strategy to your growth plans?
Roy: We had incredible growth in the direct-to-consumer space over the past couple of years. With consumer behavior changing due to the pandemic, consumers are ordering more online. We expect this trend to continue in the future and are placing bets on our businesses that will grow with this trend. Having a digital commerce strategy has been key to our growth plans. We are focusing on expanding our courier businesses internationally using VTEX as our digital commerce platform.
DC360—Do your business customers include restaurants, bars, grocery stores and convenience stores? Any others?
Roy: Our direct-to-consumer business involves both end consumers as well as our customers like convenience stores, restaurants, and bars. We’ve also built digital capabilities to help our own on-trade bars and restaurants outside the U.S., which gives a touch-free menu experience to our users. Building a direct-to-consumer ecosystem involves optimizing every part of the experience and this ranges from the end consumers’ experience to the customer delivering that to them. (Editor’s Note: “On-trade” refers to sales of beer and other alcoholic beverages through such businesses as restaurants and bars, while “off-trade” refers to sales through retail stores.)
DC360—Please comment on some of the ways AB InBev’s customers’ needs changed during the pandemic, and how your B2B2C marketplace strategy is addressing their needs.
Roy: During the pandemic, consumers had a very high demand for products at home. Any way they could save time by having their products delivered to them had a huge boost during the pandemic. Being able to meet those consumer needs has allowed us to continue to grow our number of orders as well as innovate new ways of serving consumers. We’ve had to look at our coverage and expand that both internationally and within cities so that we cover a broader customer base. We’ve also had to increase the number of couriers and inventory available for these new channels.
DC360—Please describe how your businesses’ customers and end customers interact with this B2B2C marketplace and benefit from it.
Roy: Consumers can get cold beer at grocery store prices delivered to them within 60 minutes. This value proposition has really resonated with consumers because it solves several problems for them. For example, they don’t have to carry beer from the grocery store home; they can ensure their beer is cold when they need it and they are able to trust they are getting it at the best price available.
DC360—Please comment on the benefits and significance to AB InBev of the VTEX fully integrated marketplace commerce order management system.
Roy: Having our platform on VTEX has allowed us to quickly meet the needs of consumers and expand internationally. Launching a marketplace in a matter of weeks was critical for us as there is a lot of competition in this space. Being able to have one codebase and team that we use to then deploy this platform to many countries is a huge benefit to us. We can stand up technology platforms with relatively small teams and allow those teams to focus on building custom capabilities that are critical to the business function. Building a platform that scales from scratch is a big undertaking, and that level of customization takes a significant amount of time and money. What VTEX allows us to do is not worry about the basics of an ecommerce and marketplace platform and to focus on delivering value with our technology and product teams where it really benefits the consumer.
DC360—What are the expected benefits to your business of using such offerings as machine-learning services Amazon Forecast and Amazon Personalize, Amazon’s fulfillment services and Amazon Pay.
Roy: We’re not expecting to use the DTC launchpad, however, we do use many AWS services with our ecommerce platforms. The forecasting and personalization services on AWS allow us to get access to the amazing ecommerce capabilities and services that Amazon itself uses. We can then take these and integrate them into our VTEX instances as needed. We prefer to have a degree of customization available with more of an integration/plug-and-play approach.
DC360—What are some examples of how the VTEX headless commerce solution supported and expedited your marketplace development and integration with store point-of-sale systems?
Roy: The VTEX headless commerce solution allows us to have a very high degree of control and customization of the consumer experience. It allows us to build a mobile responsive website so consumers could shop on their desktop or phone. It also allows us to create a user experience that leveraged our learnings and best practices from our past experience in the courier space.
VTEX integrations also allowed us to use other SaaS providers to maximize our speed to market. Instead of building a delivery-man app from scratch, we simply integrated one into the VTEX instance to allow us to have full management of delivery within weeks.
DC360—What are examples of other customized solutions AB InBev developed for customers?
Roy: In the direct-to-consumer group of AB InBev, we have developed many different customized solutions for consumers. In addition to our courier and ecommerce sites, we’ve also created a slew of digital capabilities that will allow us to continue innovating in the future.
For example, we have created a digital menu solution for our own brewpubs that allows us to offer menus online and lets consumers submit orders from their phones. This is important during the pandemic for creating a touchless and safe experience at our locations, and it allowed us to learn about digital capabilities we can continue to use to expand these businesses.
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