Minimart chain Alfamart Trading Philippines (Alfamart) launched in 2014 on a mission to uplift underserved communities with shops that provide fresh and frozen groceries, basic household items, over-the-counter medicines, and convenient services such as ATMs, bill payment and prepaid mobile phone load.
"Google Workspace was one of the reasons why we were able to achieve continuous store growth in difficult pandemic circumstances. We were empowered not only to keep serving communities, but reach new underserved areas."
Lerry C. Sangalang, AVP - Information Technology
That mission faced a challenge when Covid-19 erupted, forcing many Philippine retailers to close as lockdowns and mobility restrictions prevented customers from reaching stores. Yet instead of slowing down, pandemic difficulties caused Alfamart to invest in more stores, accelerate its goal of providing essential services to far-flung Philippine areas in a time of need.
Alfamart embarked on rapid expansion to serve even more communities, at a time where Covid-induced economic problems caused food shortages across the country. From 1,000 stores at the beginning of the pandemic, Alfamart grew to 1,300 in 2021, and is on track to hit 1,400 by the end of 2022.
According to Lerry C. Sangalang, AVP - Information Technology at Alfamart, the company laid the foundations for this growth strategy well before the pandemic. By adopting Google Workspace as its productivity solution in 2018, Alfamart sought to overcome pain points on its legacy Linux-based email service, including system crashes, slow data transmission and outbox overload.
The problems disappeared virtually overnight with a seamless and "intuitive" transition to Google Workspace, thanks largely to proactive user and technical training from partner Kollab. The true power of Google Workspace became clear when the pandemic struck, says Sangalang. Alfamart discovered that with powerful Google Workspace productivity and collaboration tools, the company could seamlessly expand across the Philippines while other retailers were scaling back.
Reaching far-flung communities with Google Workspace remote training and collaboration
Growing at a pace of 200 stores per year, in a period marked by lockdowns and mobility restrictions, would be daunting under any circumstances. For Alfamart, whose minimarts are scattered across a sprawling nation of more than 110 million, the challenges were even more substantial.
Thousands of new workers in remote areas needed to be trained and onboarded, even as the entire network was kept up to date with the latest company information and official pandemic-related notifications.
Sangalang says Google Classroom played a key role in enabling Alfamart to add new stores, by providing a convenient, cloud-based platform for training staff. Since the beginning of 2020, Alfamart has been able to onboard more than 1,000 workers in 300 new stores across the main Philippine island of Luzon.
"During the pandemic, we couldn’t bring new workers to our office for training," says Sangalang. "But Google Classroom enabled us to easily bring them into the Alfamart family."
At Alfamart, training is an open-ended process, as the company continuously improves its services and product range. After formal training with Classroom, Alfamart finds Google Meet to be an ideal forum for dozens of workers to join sessions on their mobile phones, keeping abreast of the latest developments from headquarters.
Alfamart now carries out roughly 1,300 Meet sessions per month across the Alfamart network, even more efficiently than physical meetings. Meanwhile, the Alfamart team uses Chat daily for quick instant communications in a secure environment.
"Our locations are primarily residential areas, not in busy metropolitan office areas where people can gather more easily," says Elinor Bonsol, Senior Marketing Manager, Alfamart. "So we really need mobile-friendly remote communication tools such as Meet to keep operations moving smoothly."
Enabling real-time strategic decision making in a fast-moving retail environment
Alfamart is deploying a full range of Google Workspace productivity and collaboration tools, including Docs, Sheets and Slides, to drive strategic priorities for its expansion and community empowerment mission, in an unpredictable retail environment.
In the past, for example, company presentations needed to be finalized a night in advance. Today, Alfamart staffers regularly update Slides up to minutes before a meeting. That real-time capacity becomes critical in fluid logistical and supply chain conditions, which need to be coordinated remotely under pandemic pressures.
"The ability to continuously work on presentation materials such as Sheets and Slides right up to the beginning of a meeting makes us a lot more streamlined and collaborative, especially in pressure-cooker situations," says Sangalang.
These efficiencies have yielded concrete results that enable Alfamart's drive to reach more remote Philippine communities. Sangalang estimates a 25% boost to operational efficiency since adopting Google Workspace productivity tools, freeing up time to develop strategies for adding new store locations.
Meanwhile, Google Workspace has enabled Alfamart to pursue its rapid pace of expansion with zero additions to IT headcount, thanks to the full automation and scalability of Google Workspace tools. That liberates funds to invest in new stores and value-added services, such as home delivery.
Ultimately, Google Workspace has improved the company’s overall productivity, creativity and operational efficiencies amid pandemic challenges. "Our workflows have actually become more fluid during the COVID crisis," says Sangalang. "That's because Google Workspace makes it possible for us to work together and make decisions more seamlessly than meeting in person."
Opening new paths to expansion with AppSheet and Google Maps
With the success it has achieved with Google Workspace, Alfamart is turning to the next steps of its Philippine expansion strategy by developing data-driven tools to optimize new store locations, using a combination of AppSheet and Google Maps.
The team plans to use AppSheet to design apps with no need for coding, ingesting location data from Google Maps APIs for powerful retail insight. By creating apps in an easy no-code environment, Alfamart will gain the ability to place new stores based on granular population density, traffic flows, competitor sites, and other factors.
"With a rich variety of Google services available, from AppSheet to Google Maps, there's no end to the improvements we can make to drive our expansion," says Sangalang. "We feel we're just at the beginning of our journey to empower residential Philippine communities, thanks to the way Google Workspace supports our creative mission."
Alfamart Trading Philippines is a minimart chain that serves residential communities. With more than 1,300 stores across Luzon, it offers families basic household goods, frozen meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, prepared food-to-go products, and OTC medicines. It also provides services such as ATM, bills payment, and prepaid phone loading. On a social mission to empower underserved communities, it has been recognized with multiple awards, including Asia Leaders Award Company of the Year (2021) and Golden Globe Annual Awards for Business Excellence (2018).
Established in 2014, Kollab is a premier digital transformation advisor for more than 650 companies across Southeast Asia. Kollab certified professionals collaborate with enterprise customers to achieve transformation through enterprise collaboration, infra + app modernization, hybrid cloud security, and cloud development. Kollab is the first Google Cloud Premier Partner in the Philippines.