One year of OKay Direct and the icing on the (birthday) cake is ... winning the Mercurius award

One year of OKay Direct and the icing on the (birthday) cake is ... winning the Mercurius award

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Looking back on one year of OKay Direct in Ghent

Around this time a year ago, OKay Direct opened the first automatic doors in the Belfortstraat in Ghent. In this modern 150 m² "self-service store", customers have been able, in the past year, to do their shopping every day of the week, day and night, thanks to the support of technology developed by Smart Technics, the innovative start-up within Colruyt Group. A unique concept in Belgium, responding to the changing needs in our society and, more specifically, to those of the urban customer.

One year after the opening, the expectations about Okay Direct have absolutely been fulfilled. ​ The results are in line with the expectations and continue to evolve in a positive way. Customer reactions are also very positive. After this first test period, it is safe to say that this concept effectively represents added value for customers and for Colruyt Group. It is definitely the intention to open additional stores in the near future.

Of course, the past year also brought some challenges. Gert Somers, responsible for OKay Direct, looks back: "We’ve had to abandon the 24/7 principle of our OKay Direct for a while in the autumn of 2021, when the Covid pandemic flared up again. We decided then – in solidarity with the other sectors – to close from 23:00, until 6:00 the next morning. That is the only period when customers could not shop at night. In addition, OKay Direct remains a new shop format which we are continuously optimising to meet our customers' needs even better. Furthermore, we are looking at how we can make the check-out even smoother – perhaps even following the 'just-walk-out' principle. But for that, we need to move up a level because in that case we will have to link the shop visit to the customer's bank account. It's on the table."

"Made in Belgium for the Belgian customer": winner of Comeos’ Mercurius award

When developing OKay Direct, in their own typical way Colruyt Group looked at how technology could be used to respond to customers' evolving needs in an efficient and economically interesting way, in a 24/7 format. The concept was designed, developed and realised 100% within and for the Belgian market. In this way, OKay Direct fulfils OKay's baseline within the city in an innovative way: “Fast, inexpensive and convenient”.

As icing on the (birthday) cake, last night this innovative format won the Mercurius award, the most prestigious award in trade for more than 30 years. Comeos, the federation for commerce and services in Belgium, rewards daring and innovation in the sector with this prize. Gert Somers is very proud: "For the entire OKay team, this is a very gratifying crowning of the work that we, together with our colleagues from Colruyt Group Smart Technics, have achieved over the past year. And it is a confirmation of our drive to invest in the further expansion of this format."

Continue to invest in innovative concepts in the city

A great potential still remains unexplored within cities for Colruyt Group, and the ambition is to play a bigger role there in the short term. Today, with OKay Compact, Colruyt Group already has 13 shops in central cities, and there are also shops serving the urban public under the banner of Spar Colruyt Group. These stores focus on a specific product range, and are also open on Sundays. OKay Direct fits perfectly into this ambition. On the one hand, the concept allows for faster expansion. On the other hand, it responds to the needs of city customers, today and in the future: customers have the freedom to do their shopping completely autonomously, whenever they wish.

The OKay Direct formula allows to open stores in a restricted space in city neighbourhoods: the concept is perfectly scalable. Moreover, the supporting technology used in this concept opens up opportunities for the development of other applications: to go much bigger, or just much smaller, in similar or completely different contexts. So in addition to the intention to expand within cities, the idea is also to explore other avenues.

Jo Willemyns, COO Food Retail Colruyt Group emphasises: "We would like to shift up a gear in this area and will increasingly focus on innovative city concepts, tailored to specific customers. However, we do not intend to adopt the franchise model of our competitors, but will tackle it in our own way. The OKay Direct formula is already a great example of this. It allows customers to shop nearby at any time of the day – on foot or by bike, thus also responding to urban mobility. Our Collect&Go walk-in in Ixelles is another formula that is thinking along these lines, and this test is also going very well at the moment."