Why H-E-B Wins With Online Grocery Shoppers

ByBecky Patton

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Photograph courtesy of H-E-B

An easy-to-use app, convenient delivery options (along with on-time delivery) and successful substitutions helped propel San Antonio-based grocer H-E-B to the top of dunnhumby’s first-ever eCommerce Retailer Preference Index.

The consumer data firm’s inaugural study of the $100 billion U.S. online grocery market found H-E-B besting other top e-commerce playersincluding Amazon and Kroger, in areas such as ease and reliability and emotional connection with customers. Based on customer experience surveys, H-E-B, WGB‘s 2020 Grocery Business of the Year, had the highest overall e-commerce value proposition, narrowly outranking Amazon among more than 50 grocery retailers studied. Rounding out the top 8 were Amazon Fresh (No. 3), Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Sprouts Farmers Market.

Building on consistently strong marks from customers on its in-store experienceH-E-B took the No. 2 spot overall in dunnhumby’s fifth-annual, brick-and-mortar-inclusive Retailer Preference Index earlier this year—H-E-B has succeeded in its omnichannel push through fulfillment efficiency and continual investment in its digital capabilities, according to dunnhumby. 

H-E-B debuted curbside pickup way back in 2015 and launched its My H-E-B app in late 2019, just months before COVID-19 drove more shoppers online, and the grocer “has increased its digital scores more than any retailer from 2018 to today,” dunnhumby researchers noted.

H-E-B scored first in “use of app,” “easy to pay” and “order delivered on time” and second in “charged the right amount,” “fast online shopping,” “convenient time slots available” and “physical store has a convenient location.” The retailer also dramatically outperformed second-place Amazon as well as Cincinnati-based Krogerwhich announced plans this spring for a new San Antonio fulfillment facility to power Kroger Delivery in the area—in choosing appropriate substitutes.

H-E-B’s strong emotional connection with customers came in part from online shoppers’ confidence that they were shopping directly with the retailer vs. with a third-party delivery intermediary such as Instacart or DoorDash. Perception matters: “Customers have loyalty to the retailer and not the intermediary,” dunnhumby noted, and customers’ belief that they’re transacting with a retailer itself (or a retailer-owned digital asset) correlates with better business results. By contrast, Publix had the greatest share of e-commerce customers purchasing through an online grocery intermediary, and “shopping through intermediary platforms, customers perceive high product mark-ups,” the study’s authors wrote. Publix scored second-to-last on dunnhumby’s eCommerce RPI price pillar.  

Overall, according to dunnhumby, the results of the first eComm RPI study demonstrate that despite the vast resources—in money, talent and data—of retail’s biggest players, “The dominance of grocery giants like Amazon, Walmart and its subsidiaries is not absolute.”

And although online grocery shopping has seen declines vs. its highs in 2020 and 2021 amid rising inflation, e-commerce will continue to expand as shoppers diversify the ways they shop for different types of items, including grocery essentials, dunnhumby suggested. 

“While small in comparison to brick-and-mortar, e-commerce will continue to grow, and half of the grocery shopping population already buys online for grocery,” the report’s authors concluded. “We are entering a world where omnichannel shopping is the norm. All retailers will need to continually advance their eCommerce capabilities and experience in the years to come.”