Ode to H-E-B
A Product Critique
What’s your favorite grocery retailer? Walmart? Publix? Giant? Safeway? For most Texans, the answer is clear — H-E-B, a regional grocery store based in San Antonio. H-E-B’s cult following is reflecting in consumer data. The Retailer Preference Index by dunnhumby, a global customer data science firm, measures the customer value proposition of various grocery retailers. From 2020 to 2021, H-E-B dropped from #1 to #2, second only to Amazon. This year’s rankings were dependent on the ability to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Amazon’s dominance reflects the importance of having strong digital capabilities to win customers in the grocery space.
Though Amazon is a clear digital leader, H-E-B’s digital offerings stand out, specifically their My H-E-B product. In this article, I’ll be doing a product teardown of the My H-E-B app.
According to Julie Zhuo, former VP of Product Design at Facebook, a product teardown or product critique is “in its simplest form — exploring the curiosity of why some products and experiences work for people, and why others don’t.” In this critique, I’ll be analyzing the broader context for the product, the product goals, key users, top features, and my ideas for how H-E-B could improve upon the product.
H-E-B is a regional grocery retailer with 400+ stores across Texas and Mexico. H-E-B often taps into Texas pride to build its brand awareness, stocking a diverse array of local / Texas-shaped products and often supporting local communities in times of crisis. For example, after Hurricane Harvey, H-E-B hauled water to Beaumont before FEMA could arrive and set up mobile food kitchens after tornadoes in Dallas. H-E-B builds on its brand value through a rapidly advancing digital strategy. In the past 6 years, the company has had several milestones such as launching online ordering with curbside pick-up in 2015, acquiring delivery service company — Favor — in 2018, and opening an innovation lab in 2018. The launch of the refreshed version of the My H-E-B app in 2019 is the culmination of H-E-B’s most recent digital efforts.
What are the Product Goals?
The goals for this product can be divided into two categories:
- Sell Groceries — the primary function of this product is to sell groceries to consumers, by streamlining the shopping experience
- Maintain Brand Perception — according to the H-E-B digital team, one of the challenges they solve is “translating brick and mortar magic into digital gold”. H-E-B already has high brand awareness within relevant regions, and the My H-E-B app needs to reflect the same levels of quality and delight.
- Encourage customer loyalty — though the product doesn’t formally include a loyalty program, it aims to increase loyalty by improving the customer experience
- Purchase Groceries Conveniently — when most people think of digital grocery offerings, they assume customers want to order online. However, convenience is broader than online ordering, and the My H-E-B app provides features that support the online and in-store experience.
- Take Advantage of Sales — Though H-E-B has a wealth of physical coupons, the My H-E-B app highlights relevant coupons and sales
Who are the target users?
H-E-B serves a diverse range of customers, so as opposed to a specific persona, there are two large categories that are important to consider.
- Existing H-E-B customers who want to streamline the grocery shopping process
- Recently converted H-E-B customers who want to take advantage of online grocery options. According to YouGov, this moving from consideration to becoming a current customer is the most effective part of H-E-B’s conversion funnel, so by supporting these customers, the My H-E-B app can reinforce one of H-E-B’s current strengths.
What are some of the top features?
The most important features fall into two main categories — Discovery and Purchasing
Home — The homepage of the product serves as an “Explore” page, highlighting seasonal options and weekly coupons.
Shop — The Shop Page mimics the in-store experience by allowing users to browse by category. You could consider these categories a “virtual aisle”, where users can browse through similar products.
Search — My most frequently used method, the search bar allows users to search for specific items.
In-Store — Providing a convenient shopping experience includes the brick and mortar experience, and In-Store features are embedded across the product. Within each item’s details page, users can locate items within the store, locate the item at nearby stores, and add items to shopping lists.
I’ve only used the above In-Store features when I’m already in a store location, but users can also create lists before their shopping trip. The lists are then organized by in-store location, cutting down time looking for items.
Curbside Order: This was the first use case included in H-E-B’s digital capability, and the app easily allows users to select a time and store location for pick-up.
Delivery: Similarly, the app allows users to set a delivery address and time.
What are feature gaps?
Since its 2018 refresh, My H-E-B has become fairly robust, but there are some quick wins that can improve the customer experience.
Curbside “I’m Here”: In the Curbside Ordering customer journey, after the customer makes an order, H-E-B sends a confirmation text, and a reminder 29 minutes before pick-up time. When customers arrive, they park in the curbside zone and send a text to confirm which parking spot they’re in. I think this is a feature that can be contained within the app, with an “I’m Here” button. This is a feature I’ve seen other retailers and restaurants adopt during COVID, as they’ve expanded their curbside offerings.
SmartHome Integration: Currently, one of the highest points of friction in my customer journey is remembering to add all the items I need to my order on time. When I remember items that I need, I usually use a virtual assistant (e.g. Google Home) to add the item to my shopping list via voice. Seamless integration between virtual assistants and the My H-E-B app would save me a step in transferring my shopping list to the My H-E-B app.
Recommendations for Future Growth
H-E-B is already a beloved retailer, and I see two large areas of expansion for the My H-E-B app to continue to exceed user expectations:
How might we tap into the social experience of food?
Recipe Sharing: The idea of purchasing based on recipes is already included in the My H-E-B app, on the Home Page, which allows you to explore items based on a recipe or broader theme (e.g. tacos, grilling, charcuterie boards). This can be expanded at two levels:
- Person to Person Recipe Sharing: When I’m seeking inspiration for what food to make, I ask my friends about recipes they’ve cooked recently. Though many of the people I’ve asked are also My H-E-B users, there currently isn’t a convenient way to share the ingredients they’ve purchased. Creating a shopping list sharing feature would allow users to create lists based on recipes, which some already do, and share those specific items with friends and family. Building on the sharing capability, a recipe import feature would allow users to more easily input relevant ingredients into the My H-E-B app, creating a seamless experience for recipe shopping. This feature would also encourage users to keep more of their data in the H-E-B app, encouraging them to shop at H-E-B as opposed to other stores.
- Community-Level Recipe Sharing: H-E-B frequently highlights local farmers for specific items in their brick and mortar stores — why not highlight local chefs on the app on a rotating basis? The ability to discover Houston Chef Chris Shepherd’s Korean braised goat and dumpling recipe, and then easily purchase all the ingredients to make it yourself, could add an element of delight to what may previously have been a boring shopping list. This feature could also build on H-E-B’s current program to support local restaurants during the pandemic by selling pre-packaged restaurant meals within stores. These existing partners could form an initial short-list of chefs to highlight. This feature takes advantage of H-E-B’s extremely local branding and could encourage customers to return to the app regularly to view the chef highlight.
How might we increase shopping efficiency?
Smart Ordering: Currently, the My H-E-B app allows you to view past in-app orders and add items from past orders to your cart. As a shopper, I frequently forget to order in time for free curbside, forget to purchase items I aim to buy on a regular cadence, or buy items I still have in the fridge. (Side note, this always happens to me with cheese, and I end up with 5 different containers of cheese in my fridge). I think there are two areas where the My H-E-B app can solve these user challenges:
- AI Re-Ordering Model: Taking a page from Amazon’s book, the product could use an algorithm to determine a customer’s usual cadence for buying specific items and then promote those items throughout the user journey. For example, I typically buy a carton of eggs every two weeks. Instead of promoting “Items I May Also Love” at the final confirmation screen, the product could have a message highlighting items I usually buy as a final reminder. This would be a more personalized way of increasing basket size, as opposed to promoting seemingly random items.
- Last Purchased Date: A feature that could solve my issue of buying too much cheese could be a Last Purchased Date. When viewing the items across the product and in my cart, showing the date I last purchased a specific item could remind me that I probably still have shaved parmesan in the fridge, seeing as the last time I purchased it was 5 days ago. Though this could decrease basket size, it would also be an extension of H-E-B’s brand promise.
All in all, I’m a huge fan of the My H-E-B app and the way it maximizes H-E-B’s current brand. In the increasingly competitive grocery industry, I’m excited to see how this local leader continues to push the boundaries of convenience in grocery shopping. For a user like me who hates grocery shopping, the My H-E-B app has solidified H-E-B as my grocery retailer of choice.
My postings reflect my own views and do not represent the views of my employer.