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Small and swift: How operational task forces can help e-commerce sites during COVID-19

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For Jannis Dargel, director of operations at Zalora Group, the squad structure allowed quicker decision-making in parts of the business that demanded it. Image designed by Freepik.

By Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo

E-commerce platform Zalora Group, which deals with goods that were considered non-essential during the start of the lockdown, created a squad structure to address immediate issues that arose from the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic. It was a key decision that allowed the organization to act quickly during uncertainty.

Zalora’s squad structure is composed of task forces focused on different aspects of the e-tailer’s business. Each task force, meanwhile, is composed of four to 12 people solving a particular problem. What differentiates task forces from departments or committees is that they are temporary groups, disbanding once the set objectives have been achieved.

For Jannis Dargel, director of operations at Zalora Group, shifting to a squad structure allowed quicker decision-making in parts of the business that demanded it. “It was very, very important for us to… put decision-makers in place to lead five squads,” he said during a webinar held on July 14.

Mr. Dargel’s comment dovetails with observations made by other executives about smaller teams and speed. “As the saying goes: too many cooks spoil the broth… When there are too many voices involved in decision-making, innovation goes out the door,” wrote Aytekin Tank, founder and CEO of online form builder JotForm, in a recent Fast Company article about the benefits of small, cross-functional teams.

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In the same piece, Mr. Tank discussed how members of a small team are able to communicate more clearly with each other, with fewer misunderstandings. They are also more efficient and focused in achieving set goals. “Smaller, agile teams are more likely to carry their weight, are better able to make decisions, and execute tasks in a shorter amount of time,” he said.

ZALORA’S EXPERIENCE

In response to the pandemic, Zalora set up five squads focusing, respectively, on Category Expansion, Fulfillment Capacity Building, Customer Patience, Business-as-Usual (BAU) Trading or Revenue Management, and Return to Work.

Category Expansion acquires brands for Zalora’s “Essentials,” a new category composed of products that fulfill everyday needs, including food, personal care, health and wellness, and household supplies. As of July 14, 277 Essentials brands have gone live on Zalora.

Fulfillment Capacity Building diversifies logistics solutions to enable faster delivery of orders while reducing the number of failed deliveries due to lockdown restrictions. This was a learning opportunity for the team, said Mr. Dargel, since essential items have a different delivery lead time compared to Zalora’s usual wares. To this end, Zalora onboarded a logistics provider, NinjaVan, which doubled its last-mile capacity.

Customer Patience works on actively communicating updates with customers across channels, as well as reviewing and improving their tone of voice and messaging across customer service (CS) and social media platforms. To fulfill the orders from March and April that were stuck due to the quarantine, 47 employees from across the company volunteered to help resolve CS ticket backlog.

BAU Trading or Revenue Management maintains profitability through the mounting of events and campaigns, while also managing customer expectations for order fulfillment. Through a series of sale events, the task force was hit its highest month for net merchandise value and profitability ever in May, when Metro Manila was in lockdown.

Lastly, Return to Work sets up policies that ensure the health and safety of employees who have to work on-site. This group irons out transport plans for employees, who may have difficulty getting to work due to the limited availability of public transit. The task force collaborated with Zalora’s regional office and partners Global Fashion Group and Ayala Group to create best practices not just for the present but also for the future.

“We’re also looking into how we transform the way we work throughout the country opening up towards GCQ or even lesser restrictions further down the line. Generally, we are targeting a safe return to work throughout 2021. Our goal in 2020 is to provide certainty to all of our employees, and that certainty means we have implemented very flexible work options at this point and kept all non-essential employees safe at home,” said Mr. Dargel.

By creating a squad structure to address these five pressing issues, Zalora Group was able to handle the initial shock of the enhanced community quarantine, said Mr. Dargel. “We were able to rebound quite quickly and are on an upwards trend to meet the newly transformed customer expectation.”

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