Turning on the lights in the Dark Stores — engineering behind Wolt Market
We here at Wolt Engineering have relatively recently engaged into the interesting challenge of Quick Commerce. If you’re not familiar with this term yet, I don’t blame you. Quick Commerce (also known as Q-Commerce) is the next evolution of e-commerce that has started to emerge only during the past few years. Quick Commerce is about delivering fast. While traditional e-commerce at best deals with same or next day deliveries, Quick Commerce works in minutes. To get the products onto the doorsteps of the customers this fast, most Quick Commerce companies turn to a store concept that goes by many names: delivery-only, cloud, and dark stores to mention a few. These stores are pretty much hyperlocal supermarkets optimized for fast delivery. They’re small stores, without the possibility to do walk-in shopping, used primarily to fulfill fast delivery orders.
Wolt Market is our approach to this phenomenon. Essentially Wolt Market is a world-class grocery delivery service that makes weekly grocery shopping incredibly easy, offering customers a curated selection of everyday products and ultra-fast deliveries. But how have we built this concept and quickly scaled it close to two dozen countries, several dozen cities and even more markets? Building the foundations of Wolt Markets from a product development perspective has been an interesting journey. This blog is all about the engineering behind our Wolt Market journey.
The beginning of Wolt Market
At Wolt we got into Quick Commerce the same way as anything we do, very entrepreneurially. To summarize the early days without too much (but some) exaggeration, was that in 2020, during the first wave of the Covid pandemic, a bunch of us got together and figured that since the pandemic is making people stay indoors more, Wolt could probably help by delivering them groceries. Our customers had already previously requested Wolt to deliver more than restaurant food. So, we decided to give it a try and launched the very first version of Wolt Market. And of course to make things interesting, we wanted to do this with the best customer experience out there in the market.
Essentially, we leased out a few pieces of real estate, bought a bunch of stuff we figured our customers would like and hacked the service into the Wolt platform that was geared towards restaurant deliveries at the time. Obviously we performed all the lean startup steps in the process by listening very closely to our customers, meticulously analyzing the data and continuously improving all aspects of our newly launched service.
Like any business, we had our ups and downs. By the end of the day, we were hoping for good results but I think it’s fair to say that even we were surprised by our customers’ response. They loved it! So we decided to expand to see what customers in some of our other countries would think. And as Quick Commerce is about being quick, we decided to expand fast. Today, we operate in almost all Wolt’s countries and serve customers in most major cities. And we’re growing.
Engineering delivery only-stores
Inside Wolt we’ve got a bunch of product development teams focusing on different things to make Wolt Market even greater every day. We look after the behind the scenes of Wolt Market operations, from purchasing and inventory, to warehouse management to how we build our catalog of products in the app — and everything in between. Our product development teams work closely with category managers who look after our selection in the Wolt Markets, Inventory Managers who ensure we have all the items needed available, Wolt Market employees for testing and of course, our other product development teams at Wolt to stay aligned.
While it’s possible to run a few stores in a startup manner, think manual processes and inventory on sheets and docs, running a larger network of stores requires systems for things like accurate inventory management and efficient store operations. Building pragmatic solutions to enable the business to scale up quickly while building a solid foundation for the future isn’t straightforward. At Wolt our philosophy is doing common things uncommonly well, so we decided to build all of the software in-house. This means lots of greenfield opportunities and a blank canvas of problems we need to solve.
People here are very entrepreneurial which allows us to do things like testing beta releases with real users in one of our stores with the actual live traffic and real store staff. Since pretty much everyone I’ve met at Wolt is very open minded and eager to try out new things, it’s very easy as an engineer to gather highly valuable feedback on the things that we’re building very quickly.
Building a world-class customer experience — for customers and employees
Quick Commerce might be the new next wave of e-commerce but Wolt sure isn’t alone in making it a reality in most markets. It’s a very competitive space to be in. So building a world-class customer experience is key.
A great customer experience makes you stand out from the crowd. Wolt has since the early days been driven by customer satisfaction and we take customer experience in the broadest of sense. Here at Wolt Market we build a lot of tooling for our stores to function effectively. However, we aren’t only considering the high effectiveness when creating internal tooling. High satisfaction is also a top importance. We sincerely believe that if our employees are happy with their tools and can do their work effectively, then that satisfaction is ultimately going to transform into customer satisfaction and long term success for both Wolt and our customers.
We enable and recommend all our Wolt market engineers and other team members to do some shifts in Wolt Markets to deeply understand the user experience of the tools and products we build. This includes testing the full life cycle process in the stores — from accepting orders to picking up the right items, packing orders, inventory management and so on.
One example of our consumer-grade-everywhere-approach has been how we roll out software to our Wolt Markets. When working with hundreds of stores it’s usually not a great idea to roll out major changes at once. This can lead to high Ops confusion if we’re not able to support all the stores at once in their adoption to major changes. Instead we release in chunks, sometimes as small as one Wolt Market at a time. However, we wanted to keep the experience coherent within a country to not have confusion where one grocery associate is working in a different way than their colleagues. To do this we took a look at what the commercial Testing In Production/Feature Flag management tools would have been able to provide us. As we weren’t really satisfied with any that we looked at, we ended up building one ourselves. Yes, to maximize user satisfaction.
The tool allowed us not only to deploy and release as we see fit but also to test our software safely with real users and enable access to newer releases for only selected stores to follow the performance of a new release before a wider roll out. As the whole organization is very eager to try out new things, Wolt Market is a really cool environment to take the Testing in Production-paradigm to the next level.
It’s like working in a startup within a scale up
All in all, building Wolt Market is very unique — it’s truly like working in a startup within a scaleup. It’s a sweet spot of building up everything from scratch, but having the backup of enterprise level funding. The opportunities to work in a startup without most of the risks of a startup are rare which makes us feel grateful.
It’s motivating to be able to work in a high growth environment where you can really quickly see the impact of your engineering work. Everything moves super fast. Small deliveries create big wins. There are tons of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone to make things happen.
Having a high degree of autonomy is pretty much in everyone’s DNA at Wolt. As you’re able to take a huge degree of ownership of a feature, it feels extremely gratifying to experience the customers using your solution that you were part of designing from the ground up.
Wolt Market has been a one of a kind adventure so far but it’s story hasn’t even reached the end of its first chapter yet. If you want to write what happens next, why don’t you check out our careers site for open roles.