With online grocery sales booming during the coronavirus pandemic, Albertsons Cos. is stepping up customer service with digital assistance technology from Nuance Communications.
Albertsons plans to deploy virtual assistant and live chat solutions from the Nuance Intelligent Engagement Platform to provide real-time support to customers shopping for their groceries online or via the retailer’s mobile apps, Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance said yesterday.
The artificial intelligence (AI)-powered application helps customers through their shopping experience and answers questions on how the delivery service works, item availability, online order tracking status, and store locations and hours, among other inquiries.
“Supporting our customers’ needs as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible is of utmost importance to us. We are pleased to offer shoppers multiple options when it comes to ordering online, from in-store pickup to contactless delivery,” Chris Rupp, executive vice president and chief customer and digital officer at Albertsons Cos., said in a statement. “Our associates are fully committed to assisting our customers in the stores, and now we can extend that same Albertsons experience to our digital channels, ensuring our customers’ needs are met however they choose to shop.”
So far, Albertsons has implemented the Nuance virtual assistant and live chat at its Vons supermarkets in Southern California. Plans call for the Boise, Idaho-based grocer to now roll out the solutions to its Albertsons, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Jewel-Osco, Pavilions and Randalls grocery chains.
The nation’s second-largest supermarket operator, Albertsons Cos.’ food and drug retail network encompasses 2,252 stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia., including such banners as Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Shaw's, Star Market, United Supermarkets, Market Street and Haggen.
Nuance noted that Albertsons’ home delivery services are offered in 11 of the nation’s top 15 markets.
“We innovate to create value and help organizations solve real problems that make everyday lives better through conversational AI,” commented Joe Petro, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Nuance. “We are fortunate to partner with Albertsons, as they put their customers’ experiences and needs at the center of their business to ensure people are getting what they need in an efficient, easily accessible way, and we deeply respect their commitment to the communities they serve.”
Over the past couple of years, Albertsons has amplified its e-commerce investment — including in home delivery and click-and-collect services and supporting technology — and those efforts have begun to pay off as online sales have surged.
“Several system enhancements were made to our e-commerce platform in 2019 that significantly improves the overall customer experience,” President and CEO Vivek Sankaran said April 30 in a conference call with analysts on fiscal 2019 results. “We created a single sign-on and simplified the registration experience. We re-platformed the cart, checkout and order edit functionality to improve performance. We also integrated a single, shoppable home page allowing customers to easily add to cart, created more user-friendly search functionality, and made product recommendations available.”
Executives said coronavirus-triggered demand has pushed the company to further expand its investment amid changing consumer behavior, as more customers go online for groceries.
“We’re seeing increased demand for e-commerce in fiscal 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are taking rapid action to support this growth,” Sankaran said in the call. “Total e-commerce sales were up 109% during March. Strong growth in demand has continued during April, with sales growth of 374% compared to last year, bringing our total quarter-to-date sales to an increase of 243%.”
For the 2019 fourth quarter, e-commerce sales rose 32%, lifting full fiscal-year online sales growth to 39%, according to Albertsons.
“Fourth-quarter growth was driven by continued expansion of our Drive Up & Go — that we refer to as ‘DUG’ — and home delivery offerings, as well as third-party delivery,” said Sankaran. “In 2019, we increased our DUG store count by 300-plus. In Q4, we made changes to existing DUG stores, enhancing the presence of this offering with new parking lot and in-store signage. Over the next two years, we will be accelerating our DUG buildout to include 1,600-plus stores.”