Robert Ilijason is an IT Consultant specializing in databases and business intelligence, mainly working with automating processes and data flows. He has worked with customers such as Ericsson, TeliaSonera and mainly IKEA. He is also a writer. Since a few months ago, he is also a retailer and he’s opened an unmanned grocery store in the small village of Viken and now expanding in Sweden. How Robert came across our path was, in doing some research for our podcast interviews, we bucked upon this article and these videos that spoke about this gentleman in Sweden who created an automated store where there were no actual employees and all you needed was your smart phone app to basically navigate your entire experience.
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey
- Can you share with us a little about the problem that you were experiencing why you created this app?
- How would you rate customer experience in Sweden, do you find it’s different from other places in the world?
- How do you stay motivated every day?
- If another business owner came over to you and said they are looking to do something similar to what you’re doing in your business, creating an app, but are looking more to have an app to complement their existing store with employees, what is some advice you would give them in terms of developing something that would be customer oriented?
- What is the one online resource, website, tool or app that you absolutely cannot live without in your business?
- What are some of the books that have had the biggest impact on you?
- What is one thing in your life right now that you are really excited about – something that you are working on to develop yourself or people?
- Where can our listeners find your information online?
- What is one quote or saying that you live by or that inspires you in times of adversity?
- Robert Ilijason stated that he has always been a tech person for all his life; he started out with computers when he was 10 years old. He started to work with it professionally when he was 20 years old and now he is 40 years old and has been with it for 20 years. He has had a lot of different titles, he has been a Web Developer, a Database Administrator, a BI Consultant, which is his current title, but what he’s been doing all these years is solving problems using technology. People go to him with a problem and he uses the correct technology to solve the problem that they have.
- As an avid problem solver – Robert Ilijason shared that one day he had his son and he was home alone with him for the first time, he was about 6 months old back then. It was late at night, he was supposed to feed him baby food, his girlfriend had left him a note of what he was supposed to do and he managed to drop the last jar of baby food and it was too late for the stores in Viken which is a small city with about 4000 inhabitants. The stores were closed and he kind of panicked as it was his first time and he didn’t know what to do so he took his son, put him in the car and they drove to the closest city which was Helsingborg and that was a very bad experience because his son (Max) was screaming because he was both hungry and afraid and wondering what was happening and Robert was sweating all over because of the panic he had. During that trip he decided that he doesn’t want to live in a place where he can’t buy stuff all the time but his girlfriend told him that they need to stay in Viken, so he decided that if he can’t move to the store, he has to move the store to him. In Sweden it is very expensive to have personnel and in most countries, so having a 24/7 store in Viken was out of the question, at least if you have your ordinary store. Robert started thinking, what if they just remove the personnel and it proved to be quite simple because the people working in the cash register can be replaced by the customer, it’s not totally without employees because someone needs to fill up the goods and remove the old goods and clean out the store but you don’t need to have someone there all the time. You download the app, you can register online and it takes 15 seconds. You can use the app to enter the store, walk around, you scan what you take and when you’re done, you press the button and after a few weeks you get the invoice.
It is a way for him to count the transaction cost because he can add credit cards or different kinds of e-payments they have in Sweden but that cost him a few Swedish quarters which is about 20 or 30 cents per transaction and by bulking up all the purchases the customer does throughout the month, he can count the transaction cost quite a lot. The app was launched in mid January of 2016.
Robert Ilijason stated that most people in Viken are happy that it exists. The biggest problems he has had is not with technology but with his lack of knowledge within retailing, he doesn’t understand that he needs parking spaces and he didn’t have the carts to put goods in, there were a lot of minor things that he missed and the goods on the shelves were the wrong kind but now that it’s turning around by fixing all the problems has they come along and now it’s looking well and he’s trying to expand into more villages in Sweden.
- Robert stated that customer service is pretty well and he mostly have that experience in many countries in Europe and they are well in the customer experience, in the northern part more so, they are calm people and try to help everyone, it’s a very helpful mentality all over so it’s pretty good. That’s why companies such as IKEA has had such a success all over the world, they figured things out and tried to make things easier for their customers even if it’s their bottom line sometimes.
Robert Ilijason stated that while working with IKEA, he can talk about business intelligence which is not customer service but basically collecting everything that’s happening in the stores. From the stores, from the suppliers, from the trains, boats, trucks to basically optimize the flow of goods to lower the prices to make it more available and cheaper for people, to maintain a good quality while lowering the price for customers. The data is used to provide a better experience. Most companies are using that data, if you are ever asked by a company if you are happy with an experience, you sometimes press a button or you’re answering a survey online, that’s always collected and he recommends that people do it because even if people don’t look at you’re specific answer, they look at it in an aggregate and they will identify problem points and they will be able to fix them if you help them out. If you’re not happy and don’t tell anyone, the problem won’t be fixed and that he sees in his own store because some people are very active in getting back to him and letting him know that “hey, you should really have this product or you should not sell this product and this a problem for whatever reason”, they can help him out to optimize what he has on his shelves. He has the statistics from the sales but they can also tell him “I didn’t buy cheese today because the cheese I want wasn’t there”, he would optimize it in the app so it’s very simple, you can press the button and you can either type or speak to send him information of what problems they’ve had. Robert stated that the app has everything; he tries to push everything in there so it’s easy for them and for him.
If customers have a problem in the store like purchasing something and it spoils after a day and they want to return it, do they communicate that in the app? Robert stated there is a small box in the store where you put stuff that are bad for whatever reason or you just want to return it and it informs him of that in the app. What is the response time for getting back to the customer? Robert stated that there is a call centre so it depends on when, if you do it in the middle of the night, it will take a few hours but during working hours, it’s almost immediate response but they have very few customers so it’s easy to have a high service.
- Robert shared that he tries to look at the possibilities and try to be around positive people, he gets support from his family and other entrepreneurs in the area and by talking altogether they can keep each other’s spirit high so when someone is down they can always help them out to make sure they see the possibilities because it is hard to start something new and you don’t know if you’ll succeed and the costs are sometimes much higher than the money coming in. If you just prevail, you’ll most likely succeed.
- Robert shared that the most important advice is to start on paper and to talk to someone who actually understands user interfaces because one of the biggest challenges that he has seen when he downloads other apps is that they are very cumbersome to use, it’s confusing, they don’t always follow normal practice that most apps use and especially for bigger companies, they execute poorly. Start on paper and talk to someone that understands how the flow in the app works and do all this before you even talk to a technician. Most technicians, they think in a special way and for them things are obvious but not always obvious for the customer and an example is Apple’s Ipad, the first Ipad wasn’t better than the competition, it was worse in many regards but they managed to tell people instead of saying they have 5 gigabits, they could store 5,000 or 1,000 songs and that’s a huge difference because not everyone understands what is a gigabits it. For a technician a gigabit is obvious but for a normal person, it’s not. He sees it a lot where, you’re in the business and you understand the business and you expect everyone to understand what you’re doing but most people don’t, so you really need to start from the beginning and have someone who understands this and be a part of the app development from the very start.
- Robert stated that if you have a lot of notes on a professional level, Evernote is also something he uses very much. He uses all different types of cloud services like for storage such as Dropbox and OneDriveand Google Drive.
- Robert Ilijason shared that there are many books that have had some impact on him but for this particular project, there is none. He has been influenced by a lot of American entrepreneurs and like everyone else, Steve Jobs is a person to look up to, he did a lot of good things and also Richard Branson. He also mentioned that he really appreciates Tony Fadell, he likes people who are simplifying things and if he had one topic in his life, it would be simplification, he wants to automate and simplify things so there is time for other stuff.
- Robert stated his excitement and focus is the expansion. It is the main part right now but what he’s mostly focusing on right now is Version 2.0, so right now to shop in his store you need to have your mobile app, you need to go into the store with the app, you need to scan the goods, you need to press to pay and the next version, you just have to have the phone in your pocket. You will go to the store, the doors will automatically open, you go in, you take whatever you want and then you just leave, after a few minutes you get a preliminary invoice which you can accept or reject and after 24 hours you get the proper invoice. So basically, you don’t need to touch the phone, it will be much simpler for the people who don’t like to use technology, it might be more simplified for the elderly, it might be that they are just not into tech and they are afraid of his store today because it’s very tech focused, you have to understand technology. Even if the app is simple, there is a barrier but he can remove the barrier. He stated that it is looking promising right now.
- Robert stated that listeners can find him on:
Robert Ilijason LinkedIn
Robert Ilijason Twitter
- Robert Ilijason stated that one thing he is using from IKEA is a statement that their founder said and that is “Most things remain to be done.” It reminds him that even though he thinks something is as good as it can be, he can make it better and even though sometimes it feels like he’s stuck, there are so many things that can break it free for him. That is one quote that he is trying to think about a lot.
- Here is a link to visually view this unmanned Grocery Store – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShNL3oU4Mi0
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