SME Tech

Grocery concierge honestbee delivers orders within an hour

Order from different retailers, honestbee sends it all to you in one single delivery

Founders of honestbee (from left) Mr Isaac Tay, head of products, Mr Joel Sng, CEO, and Mr Jonathan Low, country manager (Singapore).
Founders of honestbee (from left) Mr Isaac Tay, head of products, Mr Joel Sng, CEO, and Mr Jonathan Low, country manager (Singapore).PHOTO: HONESTBEE

Users of grocery concierge delivery service honestbee can order items from multiple online retailers and have their purchases delivered to them on a single trip.

But this was not the business model intended by its CEO and co-founder, Mr Joel Sng. His original intention was to find jobs for people when the business started operating last December.

Honestbee ( customers can order from seven retailers so far, including the Cold Storage supermarket chain, gourmet grocers Mmmm! and The Butcher's Dog, and have their purchases delivered within an hour.

The start-up employs part-time shoppers and delivery staff and currently has more than 500 ready to pack and deliver customers' orders.

It has only 60 people on its full-time staff, said Mr Sng.

"I have a single mother who can work only when her child is in school. This job gives her the flexibility to manage her time, and work when she is free," he explained.

Mr Sng, 33, a former investment banker, sees honestbee as a natural extension of his not-for-profit service-industry job platform, LifeOpp, which pairs companies with part-time workers.

The difference between honestbee and the rising number of online grocery fronts such as NTUC's FairPrice Online, Cold Storage Online and Redmart is that honestbee has no inventory.

It lists what is available in its partners' physical stores, and users pick what they want. It says it now offers more than 12,000 items, ranging from organic produce, frozen meat and gourmet food, to nutritional supplements and pet-care products.

Mr Sng reckons that he could have started honestbee to help users buy and deliver other items, but he was aiming for the masses.

"I want to be able to offer customers products that they want. There's no point in selling a Lamborghini to everyone," he said.

A delivery costs $10 for orders under $30 a retailer. There is no charge for orders above that amount. Consumers pay prevailing retail prices and are also entitled to retailers' in-store discounts.

Prices on the site are updated weekly and if stores offer last-minute deals, customers enjoy the savings, said Mr Sng.

It makes money using a revenue-sharing model with its retail partners.

The draw is the promise that items get delivered within an hour. This is what attracted The Butcher's Dog, which has a single shop at Great World City, to do business with honestbee.

"They are able to handle more deliveries and do it in a faster time than we can," said the company's managing director, Mr Steven Foo.

That one-hour stipulation was also what attracted Ms Pauline Png to use honestbee.

A marketing director in her 40s, she used to spend too much time shopping at speciality stores, such as Foodie Market Place and The Butcher's Dog, to get her choice cuts of fresh meat.

"I use it more for speciality items, so I don't have to spend time on the weekends driving there," she said.

She still shops at a supermarket near her home, but has heavy items such as wine and drinks delivered to her doorstep.

"Now, I can buy from different stores. It'll be good if there were more boutique offerings, especially those that are not easy to get to."

The service plans to sign up more partner retailers, and is looking to add more shopping options as well.

While honestbee says it tries to make as much available as possible to customers, its online portal cannot handle certain items.

Durians, for instance. The differing varieties and the pungent smell make durians a difficult product to buy and deliver to customers.

"I did explore partnering with a durian distributor to do it. Maybe for the next durian season," said Mr Sng, teasingly.

If something needs to be returned or exchanged, honestbee will facilitate the exchange, he said.

Its shoppers are trained to buy with the user in mind. For example, if the request is for fresh fish and what is available is not up to scratch, the shopper can update the user to cancel the item, or buy a substitute.

While honestbee offers islandwide delivery, it does not offer islandwide shopping. It divides the island into seven shopping hubs and purchases are made according to a customer's location and the retailers available within the appropriate hub. A spokesman for the company said it plans to roll out islandwide grocery shopping by the end of the year.

Mr Sng, who is also a general partner of formation 8, a venture-capital firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, declined to reveal the start-up costs of honestbee, but said that it has enough capital to sustain operations until 2016.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Groceries delivered within an hour'. Subscribe