How H-E-B is Innovating with Design Thinking and Curbside Groceries

Online ordering has become big business for the grocery industry recently. While the practice has been commonplace in the UK and other parts of Europe for some time now, the US has been somewhat behind the curve. However, that is all changing quickly.

From the most recent data available, 48% of US shoppers purchase at least some of their groceries online with 59% stating they intend to do so over the following year. Digital grocery sales hit $23.9 billion in 2018 and are predicted to rise to around $59.5 billion over the next three years. This demonstrates how the practice is expanding rapidly and those supermarket brands which are offering digital ordering services and creating innovative ways for customers to conveniently access their groceries are going to attract more business their way.

One such brand is the Texas-based supermarket brand, H-E-B, which has been experimenting with offering its customers as many methods for digital grocery order facilitation as possible.


Curbside pickup is just one-way customers at H-E-B can choose to receive their online grocery orders. Customers place their orders and request a pickup time. Then, they pull up outside the store and park in specified bays, at which point an H-E-B store associate brings the order to their vehicle and hands it over.

H-E-B is not the only brand offering curbside pickup, but it is one of the best and most innovative when it comes to the service. In a recent report on the subject, it was discovered that H-E-B leads the way in curbside pickup times, delivering 16% of orders to customers in less than two minutes and fulfilling a staggering 84% of orders within six minutes.

The average curbside pickup time at H-E-B was four minutes, five seconds. H-E-B also provides a solid end-to-end experience with in-app communication, priority parking spots, prominent signage and well-trained employees delivering the goods and loading them — meaning the customer never even has to leave their vehicle.

"Smartphones and apps have rewired customer behaviors and expectations and changed the game for retailers, quick-service restaurants and grocery," said Digital Analyst, Customer Experience Expert and Author, Brian Solis, who contributed to the report. "Brands must now rethink business and operational models to not only keep up with evolving customer demands but also grow new markets. Those that do, win. Those that don't will lose."

Design Thinking

The H-E-B curbside pickup service is one that has come about by employing a practice known as design thinking. Through design thinking, brands such as H-E-B can marry the two concerns of creating new business opportunities and considering the human impact on the customer.

To make shopping at its stores better for customers, H-E-B could have installed more checkouts, employed more staff, or any one of a number of solutions which would have ultimately resulted in incremental improvements to the problem of a busy supermarket. However, not only would these suggestions result in a significant time and money investment, it still doesn't address human-related concerns. Just think of a stressed parent who must get screaming children out of the car and shepherd them around a busy supermarket.

Implementing curbside pickup not only reduces in-store crowds and frees up more staff and checkouts for brick and mortar shoppers, but it also provides clear relief for the human-related issues such stress and fatigue. The order can be placed well in advance and there's no need to get the children out of the car. Also, on the business side, aside from some changes to the H-E-B mobile app and assigning a few parking bays, the implementation of curbside pickup costs virtually nothing.

"By providing such a convenient service, H-E-B Curbside is actually creating new and sustainable revenue streams for the company," reports The University of Texas. "They've created an easy option for their customers to pick up groceries without leaving the car, eliminating the need to physically enter the store. Instead of simply ordering pizza or takeout when a grocery trip would be too much work or too stressful, H-E-B customers now have a convenient option to get food quickly and easily."

Final Thoughts

As the desire for online grocery ordering grows over the next few years, we are going to witness more and more brands offering innovative ways for customers to collect or receive their goods. Curbside pickup adds to the concept of click and collect to offer even more convenience for customers while presenting new revenue opportunities for those companies which implement it.

Online ordering and design thinking are set to be hot topics at Digital Food and Beverage 2020, taking place in July at the Hilton Austin TX.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

WBR Insights is the custom research division of Worldwide Business Research (WBR). Our mission is to help inform and educate key stakeholders with research-based whitepapers, webinars, digital summits, and other thought-leadership assets while achieving our clients' strategic goals.

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