by John Mendiola
In 2015, H-E-B started something new. At a single store, utilizing a paper process to manage the fulfillment side of the equation, we quickly piloted Curbside service. And almost as quickly, customers fell in love. I was lucky enough to start at H-E-B at the same time—building the Curbside Fulfillment tool that would upgrade the process from pen and pad to a robust, time-saving app. Just as quickly as the demand grew, the app became an absolute necessity to support our burgeoning business line.
The development of Curbside (and my life) over the last five years has moved pretty fast. That speed of adaption has been key to successful growth.
Since H-E-B began in 1905, we innovated long before we were “ready.” Florence Butt started the first H-E-B delivery service using a baby carriage before upgrading to a little red wagon, a horse and buggy, and finally a Ford delivery truck.
Taking a cue from Florence, we didn’t wait to launch Curbside until we had a robust app to support it. We knew the value of running a scrappy test and opted to launch our Curbside Fulfillment tool in a single store. We started at the Bunker Hill location in Houston, by running Curbside with nothing more than a WordPress and paper to track fulfillment (yes, really). The engineering team visited the store during our work on the application. Actually seeing the business was eye-opening. Partners were getting tons of requests and were forced to cap orders because of the overhead. I couldn’t wait to help.
Once we built the app with the functionality we knew customers wanted (like substituting unavailable products), we launched at two more stores. There were some hiccups and lots of adjusting to the new process, but very quickly, things were moving along. I vividly remember a local news station reporting on Curbside, showing their correspondent picking up groceries from the Bandera store in San Antonio with his kids in the car while our Partner loaded their groceries. To me, that moment really cemented that Curbside was here to stay.
As the Curbside business and our application started to spread and thrive in the wild, our various teams met plenty of challenges. It felt like cutting through a jungle and discovering a new world. We knew that adapting and being agile would be the key to meeting whatever needs arose.
Figure it out fast
Texans know that each H-E-B store is unique, from the products in stocks to the shape of the store itself. Adding space for an entire Curbside operation is tough enough, let alone when each individual store requires its own specific answer. And that was just finding where to put operations.
There’s a huge difference between how an app and a process work in theory versus in action at scale. Our engineers had to keep being as agile as possible to scale and adapt as the landscape changed. That meant completely overhauling how the basic shopping flows worked. We changed the UI and experience to take the app from feeling like a proof of concept to a real enterprise app. We added a variety of screens both for web and mobile to ensure stores were equipped with the data they needed to be successful. On the backend, our team focused to ensure that our infrastructure and code were as performant to support an aggressive rollout and a growing future.
The first Curbside opening, then celebrating the opening of our 200th location.
We made mistakes, too. Early on we batched work in the app for Partners as they selected products around the store, creating new touchpoints, but in practice, our initial idea worked less efficiently than we’d hoped. To resolve the issues, we quickly pivoted to develop a new flow that improved the selecting experience, reducing unnecessary touches, and making it more intuitive.
There were a lot of growing pains to keep up and meet the demand of the business and the customers. Thankfully a lot of Partners came together to meet the challenges.
Along the way, I became the tech lead for the Curbside Fulfillment tool. I got married. We had a daughter. As my life changed, my personal grocery needs changed—and so did our customers’. Over the years, Curbside and Delivery has grown. The software engineering world has evolved, and we knew we needed to move off of our old system and into one built for our current business model. That started our journey to move the application into the cloud and to a microservice architecture. This would allow the app to scale to whatever volume the store needed and our engineering team to deploy changes as quickly as possible, while ensuring that the changes have minimal negative impact to the Partners using the app.
Our engineering team is, at the time this was published, in the middle of rolling out the services to the Curbside stores. The team has been adapting to the needs of the business as everyone is adapting to the wider world at large. Between my daughter and work, life is quite full—so I use Curbside a lot. Who knows what the rest of 2020 has in store (pun very much intended) for the world and H-E-B—but I know that we’ll keep doing what we do best: working quickly to make everything better.
John Mendiola is the Digital Fulfillment Engineering Manager for FAST. You can connect with him on Linkedin.