by Gary Hudman
In the current digital landscape, the word “content” is pretty loaded. Does it mean blogs? Dimensions and details? Sponsored posts? TikToks?
At H-E-B, content means the success of our future business. How’s that for loaded? If you are a customer looking for a cultured pearl necklace or an $1,800 gas grill, you’ll probably consume a lot of content. You’ll spend a sizable amount of time reading reviews or scanning product details on multiple websites. You’ll dig into features, compare and contrast three or four seemingly similar items, and look at half a dozen retailers selling the same product, all before making your final purchase.
Right now, that’s not the experience most grocery customers have. We want our customers to have the opportunity to learn just as much about unfamiliar products as they could about that grill. Shopping online should feel just like walking through our stores and talking with a Partner about what’s new—not an exercise in adding the usuals to your cart and moving on. If that’s our customers’ whole shopping experience, they could be shopping with anyone. We want them to prefer us and that means introducing them to items exclusively found at H-E-B.
So, how do we get there?
The best of both worlds
Currently, our content is effective, if a little straightforward. You can get what you need, but we aren’t helping you learn what you don’t know. That’s a missed opportunity. What makes shopping at H-E-B special? It’s finding products you didn’t know about. Our goal is to provide Texans with delightful, unexpected foods and products that make their lives easier and more delicious. It’s walking through the store smelling the freshly baked goods, seeing a display of new snacks, plucking a new variety of orange from a stack of citrus, trying a sample. Online your five senses are dialed down to just one.
Effective content tells a story. That could mean telling you how we make Creamy Creations Ice Cream—the story of the cows out in West Texas, the farmers, the way we create the flavors, etc. Sharing those stories provides deeper insight into the products—but they aren’t the whole “story.”
Details, details, details
It’s just as important to help the straightforward product content shine. What are the basic ingredients of this ice cream? What does this flavor taste like? How does it stack up against the options I’ve tried before? Which vanilla is best to pair with pie? Or to eat alone? Customers need to know about more than just product name and price to try something new. Read the product comparison copy on home improvement store websites and you’ll see how important those details can be if you’re deciding between five lawnmowers. How can we provide that same level of context for ice cream, balancing product details with storytelling that offers an emotional connection customers are looking for? We want to create inspiring, engaging, and helpful content that leads our customers to a more satisfying experience—not just feed them more nutritional facts.
We’re building both the team and the tools to leverage the work they can create. Once we have compelling product information, we also need the infrastructure to display it. We need to figure out what to say and how to say it, fast.
Every item is different. Treat them that way.
The next challenge: The world of grocery is vast. The details you’ll need to explain a new brand of ketchup are not the same as what customers want to know about ribeye. Beyond, we need to focus our efforts where they are most necessary—our customers probably know enough about heritage brands and certain categories, so the priority needs to shift to the item we want them to discover. How can we explain how our own products differ from similar items? How can we highlight specialty products like Quest for Texas Best winners? Selling the items that our customers know the least about is tied to the success of our company.
That means balancing our left and right brains—looking at content through both highly creative and analytical lenses. How do you build something and power it properly? I like to say: can you be a librarian and an author? Can you create the Dewey Decimal System and write all the books at the same time?
That might sound challenging, but I know H-E-B is the place to have such a wild idea. We embrace new challenges, hiring talented people and giving them a long enough leash to develop new plans and new programs. We don’t play small. Come in, create your own path, develop how you’ll walk it, and set the strategy for those who will follow. I don’t know of another grocery in the country that’s doing the things that we are doing, that’s being recognized for what we are doing, for being successful the way we are being successful. We’re making incredible strides and our competitors are starting to take notice. Now we’re ready for our next challenge: beyond merchandising how can we make content that feels like you picked up a bottle and had a Partner tell you they tried the raspberry chipotle flavor and it’s great on grilled chicken? Having world-class content is something we simply must do—we want to be a store where our customers discover what they really love. If we only sell them what they already know, what’s the point of shopping with us?
Gary Hudman is Director of eCommerce at H-E-B. You can connect with him on Linkedin.