The word only, in English, it has many meanings. "Alone, only”Is the first result that usually appears in the dictionary. But looking a little further, only it can mean "unique" or "unique." Almacenes Only, one of the most remembered traditional clothing chains in Bogotá, certainly has a unique way of dealing with its digitization process, which although it is still far from being a proper Digital Transformation, is a good first step ...

Perhaps it is the fact that they do not spend money advertising, or that their stores are large but offer small prices, or that each customer is served as if they were part of the family, but the Only has earned an important position in Bogota culture and in the pocket of the people who live in the country's capital. 

Every year, almost as if it were a custom inherited from my parents (and that they, in turn, inherited from theirs), I usually visit a Only store to buy white T-shirts. It feels almost like an annual pilgrimage, lost between the sound of whispers and the parade of the white and red bag that for decades has carried the Only logo. And what was originally a search for T-shirts extends to divers, jackets or stockings. I am never alone, and the aisles of the warehouse are always full of people looking at the shelves or the women who serve writing customer invoices. 

This year, however, this kind of pilgrimage to the Only was canceled due to the pandemic. For the first time in decades, traditional businesses closed their stores entirely, and customers who previously kept Only's aisles full were confined to their homes.

Between buckets and pens

"We are working to offer you an alternative of distance sales, if you are interested please leave us your information and we will contact you to give you more details" This was part of the statement read on the Almacenes Only Facebook page in response to the preventive isolation measures decreed by the Colombian government.

In other words, the Almacenes Only, despite being one of the most visited, did not have a digital platform to offer sales in the midst of the pandemic. Difficult situation when, according to the same Only, the existence of its warehouses benefits more than 1.200 direct employees, many of these heads of households, who the same warehouse promised to keep payments even with the warehouses closed.

Image: Impacto TIC

For decades, the warehouse has used a bucket with a pulley as the most effective method of moving its customers' garments through the floors. That is to say, a client chooses her garments, a woman gives her a receipt and finally the products are put in the bucket and are lowered to the first step where the client pays and receives their garments. 

It is one of the most peculiar systems that exist, but that nevertheless fits perfectly within the ethos of Only. Garments are lowered into buckets, some garments do not have codes, invoices are handmade, and cashiers do not have bar readers. All this, in addition to the minimal publicity that the chain makes It is for the sake of being able to offer some of the lowest prices on the market.

And although an almost entirely analog system like this works to keep prices low, the COVID-19 crisis has forced the Only's operation to be questioned.

«Only's approach [to the digital environment] is good and adapts to what its buyers need –Emilia Ramírez, co-founder of Nile Business–, But if we are talking about what it means to be digital, we must leave the door open for investment and technological development that implements all the requirements and advantages of digital commerce.«.

Image: Impacto TIC

The jump to WhatsApp

After weeks of uncertainty and hundreds of messages of support on Facebook, Only finally openly launched its remote sales program on April 29. The devil is in the details, says an Anglo-Saxon saying, and it is important to be clear that Only Stores do not offer Internet sales, but rather remote sales.

Resigned to not being able to visit the warehouses, many clients - including myself - filled out the distance sales form. The response time is not immediate, and can sometimes take a few days, according to testimonies from people on Facebook and Twitter, but Only always responds.

We thank you in advance for your understanding and patience, due to these unexpected circumstances, we have had to implement a completely new and unexplored system for ourselves in a very short time […]Almacenes Only on Facebook

A machine or an automated system does not answer, but a worker of the Only through WhatsApp. In the era of artificial intelligence, chatbots and from automated databases, the entire distance sales process is mediated by WhatsApp but directed by a person. The digitization of the Only, although mediated by technology, is almost anything but digital. 

And still, between processes that ad portholes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are almost unthinkable, Only not only succeeded, but gained even more appreciation from customers. Buying the white shirts, receiving the photos of the products they had available and even receiving recommendations, I felt by WhatsApp as if I was truly buying in the Only of a lifetime. 

Al Only is the only one to be forgiven 

"Only is like those 'reckless, foolish' grandparents who are forgiven for everything. Thanks for your quality, prices and attention. We understand and support themAngela Sarmiento writes on the Almacenes Only wall on Facebook.

And yes, this is a sentiment shared by many of the store's customers. While Alkosto and Ktronix received criticism and insults during the second day of the day without VAT on July 3, Only only received messages of support despite the fact that could not even participate in the day.

«The Only is a brand that is at the heart -Emilia Ramírez says. And by being at the heart and being such a national brand, it has somehow won 50% of the things that must be earned digitally: user trust«.

Its processes are far from being optimized, the move towards WhatsApp was reluctant and its digital attention could be much faster, but the Only has managed in a certain way to maintain its own culture in the process of digitizing sales. Beyond the sheer means, the company stayed afloat in the months it was closed and has not betrayed its promise to "be leaders in quality and low prices ».

Image: Impacto TIC

Almost 70% of companies that start a digital transformation fail due to different factors. Putting it another way, although these first steps are still far from the cultural change that a true Digital Transformation requires, Only has succeeded where General Electric, Ford and P&G have failed. The future question is how sustainable is the current model. "The distance sales service still continues, and will continue until the crisis is over”Says Yolanda, a worker at Only. We wanted to speak to the company's management personnel, but for now it was not possible.

Despite this, it is important to emphasize that the cases of success in the move towards digital cannot be compared in a general way, but often the models work only for specific cases. «Digital connections are tailored to the consumer profile –Says Emilia the co-founder of Nilo Business–, The average Only consumer is happy to buy on WhatsApp, and most certainly does not have to migrate to something else. This is very different from what is asked of a company like Rappi or Amazon. They are different groups, different ways of connection and different business models«.

All Only stores opened their doors on June 9, with the sole exception of the Kennedy store, due to the biological fence imposed by the district government. By today, July 2020, all the Only in the city have returned to work, obeying the sanitary and peak and ID rules. 

The buckets have not changed, and the attention of the women who work there remains the same that for 66 years have met the needs of the people of Bogotá. It is essential to think about the business in the future, about improving sales through digital means, about optimizing technological processes to keep prices low but offering new services. For now, however, long live Only and its 'quasi digital transformation'.