Albertsons Cos. has entered a sweeping partnership with online technology and services giant Google to create a more interactive and convenient shopping experience.
The companies said Tuesday that, under the multiyear pact, Albertsons has been working with a variety of teams at Google on a spate of solutions to bring more efficiency to customers both in-store and online. Efforts include integrating Google Search and Maps to help shoppers locate products more easily, streamlining the checkout process with Google Pay, and leveraging Google Cloud artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as Vision AI, Recommendations AI and Business Messages into operations to build a predictive grocery engine.
Albertsons has been using Google Business Messages to provide customers the latest information about COVID-19 vaccines at its retail pharmacies. (Image courtesy of Google)
Innovations emerging through the partnership, Albertsons and Google said, include shoppable maps with dynamic hyperlocal features, AI-powered conversational commerce and predictive grocery list building. Later this year, new functionality also is coming to Google Maps that will enable Albertsons Cos. retail banners to access information about online grocery ordering, pickup and delivery directly within mobile search.
Albertsons and Google noted that they have been collaborating behind the scenes for the past year. The partnership joins the nation’s second-largest supermarket retailer with one of the world’s largest IT companies, with leadership positions in search, online advertising, cloud computing, applications and hardware.
“Albertsons Cos. is continuing to transform into a modern retailer fit for the future, and we are leading the industry forward by providing the easiest and most exciting shopping experience for our customers,” Chris Rupp, executive vice president and chief customer and digital officer at Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos. “In bringing together Google’s technology expertise with our commitment to customer-centric innovation, we’re providing our customers with a superior shopping experience no matter how they choose to shop with us.”
Google said its partnership with Albertsons will build on projects to improve the customer experience that have already been implemented. Earlier this month, for instance, Albertsons said it was using Google Business Messages to help people get up-to-date information about COVID-19 vaccines at its retail pharmacies.
Information on online grocery pickup and delivery actions is now available to shoppers directly through Albertsons Cos. stores' Google Business Profiles in mobile search. (Image courtesy of Google)
“Albertsons Cos. is leading the way in bringing innovative technologies to the grocery store digital and physical aisle,” according to Carrie Tharp, vice president of retail and consumer for Google Cloud. “We’re proud to partner with Albertsons Cos. to streamline processes and power innovative shopping experiences for customers. The unique strategic and technical collaboration at the heart of the Google and Albertsons partnership sets the stage for sustained post-pandemic transformation and momentum that will become clear to customers in both the near- and long-term.”
A conversational messaging solution, Business Messages has helped Albertsons handle the crush of inquiries from consumers seeking COVID vaccinations by enabling the grocer to receive messages from customers in Google Search, Google Maps and the retailers owned channels, reducing the volume of incoming calls, preventing potential misinformation and, in turn, raising customer satisfaction, the companies said. People can connect with their local banner pharmacies — such as Albertsons, Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Vons, Acme, Shaw’s and Tom Thumb — directly through Google Search and Maps via a message button. From there, they can quickly receive up-to-date information about vaccine eligibility, availability and appointment booking and access frequently asked questions.
“The eligibility criteria for the COVID-19 vaccine is dynamic and varies across states or even adjacent counties. We were seeking hyperlocal solutions for customers to find a timely answer to ‘Am I eligible?’ ” stated Omer Gajial, senior vice president of pharmacy and health for Albertsons Cos. “With Google’s Business Messages, we can quickly and accurately inform people of where, when and how they can get the vaccine. For our patients, this means getting them information quickly. For Albertsons Cos., it means freeing up our pharmacies to focus on what’s most important: administering the vaccine and taking care of our patients.”
Walmart also has enlisted Business Messages as a scalable communication channel for vaccine information, Google added. Since early 2020, the retail giant has used Business Messages to inform the public of store hours, pickup and delivery options, and it’s now using the technology to provide information about vaccine distribution.
A core goal of the partnership will be to make online grocery services easier to use, Albertsons and Google noted. Today, the companies announced new pickup and delivery actions that share additional online information — such as delivery providers, pickup and delivery time windows, fees and order minimums — from Albertsons Cos. stores directly on their Business Profiles in mobile search. That capability also is launching with third-party grocery delivery provider Instacart and is slated to become available on Google Maps for both Albertsons and Instacart later this year.
"This summer, we’re also teaming up with U.S. supermarket Fred Meyer, a division of The Kroger Co., on a pilot in select stores in Portland, Ore., to make grocery pickup easier," Dane Glasgow, vice president of product for Google Maps, said in a blog post. "After you place an order for pickup on the store’s app, you can add it to Maps. We’ll send you a notification when it’s time to leave, and let you share your arrival time with the store. Your ETA is continuously updated, based on location and traffic. This helps the store prioritize your order so it’s ready as soon as you get there. Check in on the Google Maps app, and they’ll bring your order right out for a seamless, fast, no-contact pickup."
Use of Google Maps in searches for “curbside pickup” are now up 9,000% from March 2020, Google and Albertsons reported. (Photo courtesy of Albertsons)
Albertsons and Google said they also aim to “transform the grocery shopping experience far beyond the pandemic,” AI-powered hyperlocal information and functionality enabling such shopping conveniences as personalized service; easier ordering, pickup and delivery; and predictive shopping carts.
The boom in online grocery ordering during the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for improving the omnichannel shopping experience, according to Albertsons and Google.
Research from the two companies shows that U.S. searches for “order groceries pick up in store” jumped 1,700% over the past year and were up 800% for “food distribution near me,” 600% for “best groceries delivery app” and 450% for “how to buy groceries online.” People also searched online for specific kinds of groceries, led by organic, vegan, bulk, Asian and Indian. Search interest in “delivery” reached an all-time U.S. high in April 2020, while the search terms “grocery store” and “online groceries” did so in May 2020. Also, use of Google Maps in searches for “curbside pickup” are now up 9,000% percent from March 2020.
Earlier this month, Albertsons Cos. President and CEO Vivek Sankaran said the company could see online grocery potentially reaching 20% of sales, driven by stepped-up e-commerce investment and greater consumer affinities for digital shopping and eating at home following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just about every important capability in our company is now data- and technology-enabled, whether it’s the promotion engine, ordering, production, automation in DCs, etc. And we have more to do,” Sankaran said in Citi’s Retail Madness Virtual Conference. “We’ve put a lot of money and energy into our digital transformation. We are excited. We’re going to roll out a whole new suite of customer-facing applications in April. We’ve been working on it through the year. Our e-commerce business has grown tremendously. We now have 1,400 locations with Drive Up & Go [curbside pickup]. We’ll get to 1,800 before this year is over. And we are aiming for two-hour deliveries in all our markets. That’s how we see that business going.”
Overall, Albertsons operates 2,253 food and drug stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under banners such as Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs.
A subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Google offers such online platforms as Search, Maps, Gmail, Android, Google Play, Chrome, YouTube, Google Ads and Google Cloud.