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How Albertsons’ Digital Tools Help Relieve the ‘Cognitive Load’ of Food Shopping and Prep

The Albertsons app recently won a People's Choice award at the Webbys.
The Albertsons app recently won a People's Choice award at the Webbys. (Image courtesy Albertsons)

People think about food an average of 226 times a day, according to research by Albertsons. Even accounting for food’s essential nature, that’s a lot of thoughts — but when you factor in everything that goes into the planning, shopping and preparing of all of the day’s meals, it starts to make a lot of sense.

Albertsons' Jill Pavlovich at CommerceNext.
Albertsons’ Jill Pavlovich at CommerceNext.

In the rapidly evolving grocery sector, Albertsons is positioning itself not just as a source of all that food but as a resource to help share the “cognitive load” that comes along with it. “As we thought about [moving] from a transactional grocery ecommerce experience to a set of tools that can help people manage this cognitive load, it changed the way we looked at both our customer and the tools that we needed to build for them,” explained Jill Pavlovich, Albertsons’ SVP of Digital Shopping Experiences, speaking at the CommerceNext conference in New York last week.

The result has been a suite of digital solutions that integrate Albertsons into other parts of the food and health cycle, from meal inspiration to nutritional tracking to speeding up the process of shopping. And it’s paying off: Albertsons’ digital sales are up more than 24%, with loyalty program membership increasing 16% and nearing 40 million members, Pavlovich shared. “Recently, we also won a Webby People’s Choice award for best shopping and retail app,” she added. “So while we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do on behalf of our customers, we feel like we’re on the right path.”

Here’s a peek behind the scenes of Albertsons’ ecommerce success.

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First and Foremost, Be ‘Brilliant at the Basics’

“COVID, as crazy as those times were, did something amazing for the traditional grocery industry,” said Pavlovich. “It really made us focus on ecommerce, which wasn’t a priority historically in the grocery space. And as we’ve come out of that urgent [period] of just figuring out how to get customers groceries online, fast, we’ve started to take a deeper look at the consumer mindsets behind purchasing groceries and planning for meals.”

But even as Pavlovich and her team develop new, sophisticated digital solutions for customers, she believes that getting those core ecommerce services right is still the retailer’s most important differentiator: “The first thing that we really focus on is being brilliant at the basics,” Pavlovich explained. “Customers have expectations in this space — they want what they ordered, they want it on time, and they want it for good value. So we focus first and foremost on that operational excellence: Are the pickers picking the right product? Are they picking it like the customer would, bringing that sense of pride to the task? We measure metrics around on-time handoffs and order accuracy and all of that.

“And then as we think about delivering value, through convenience features like location tracking and [the ability to] tell us when you’ve arrived at the store so we can meet you at your trunk,” Pavlovich added. “But [it’s also about] having really sharp delivery fees; we have some of the lowest fees in the market, as well as no costs for pickup.”

5 Ways Albertsons is Helping Lift the ‘Cognitive Load’

But Pavlovich and her team aren’t content with simply meeting consumer expectations. Now that “table stakes” services like curbside and delivery are well-oiled machines, she and her team “went on a journey to unpack exactly what people were thinking about 226 times a day” and figure out where else Albertsons could fit into the mix. Here are some of the offerings that have been developed as a result:

1. Putting Repeat Orders on Autopilot

One interesting finding uncovered by research was that 60% of what most people buy each week from their grocery store is the same. This led to a number of features and ecommerce initiatives that allow shoppers to do things like shop past orders, or even put their “weekly grocery shop on autopilot like a subscription” with the Schedule-and-Save option.

2. Combining Inspiration and Shopping

Another stat from Albertsons’ research: 80% of households regularly search online for recipes, “so we thought to ourselves [that] we can do that for our customers,” said Pavlovich. “We could actually give them not just a grocery app for shopping, but an app that can provide recipe inspiration.”

The shoppable recipe and meal-planning capability in the Albertsons app now features more than 9,000 proprietary recipes, available for free. Customers can filter recipes by dietary preferences, household size and other variables, and once they find a recipe they like they can add the ingredients to their cart with a click.

“And we don’t end there,” Pavlovich added. “Once they receive their order, we actually have a Cook Mode where they can [move through] the recipes [as they’re cooking] by just waving their hands. So we really thought about it from end to end.”

3. Leaning into Wellness

One of the big behavioral shifts among consumers that Pavlovich noted is a growing interest in wellness and health considerations, so the team created an integrated health experience in the app that gives customers insights into the health attributes of products in their basket, helps users manage and find products for certain conditions and illnesses, and even links to their health tracking devices.

4. Assisting In Stores

Pavlovich said that one of the more surprising applications for the app has been not online but in-store. “It wasn’t just online where there were complexities and burdens and hardships; [customers] were struggling to shop our stores,” she said. “They needed help, and that led to us launching ‘in-store mode,’ which makes our digital app a personal remote control for the store. It gives customers seamless access to everything that that store has to offer: counter departments, order-ahead capabilities, aisle location, deal clipping and more.”

5. Learning from Mistakes

While all these tools sound impressive, Pavlovich said that with each one there were “flops and pivots.”

“Even if you spend time talking to your customers over and over, like we did, once you put a feature out, the way that customers ultimately engage with it, discover it and use it is always slightly different than what you’ve imagined,” she said. “In each one of these cases, we had pivots. For example, with Schedule-and-Save, order-edit flexibility was kind of an a-ha moment [after it launched] that we needed to bring to our customers.

“I think the biggest mistake one can probably make [in building digital tools] is thinking that something is customer-backed, but not actually verifying that,” added Pavlovich. “Whether it’s a customer panel or putting something out in the market and listening to the customers’ [reaction], if you don’t listen to the customer, you’re bound to build something that the customer’s not going to use.”

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