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Design Technology at the Intersection of Art and Science

Redesigning the Shopping List

“One of Albert Heijn’s greatest strengths as a company is our ability to understand what the customer wants and translate that insight into innovative products and services.” - Dick Boer, President and CEO

Winning the hearts and minds of customers by creating daily relevance

Two years ago Albert Heijn started with a complete new service in the consumer retail area. The objective of this new service is actually strongly rooted in the company’s foundational principles. Back when Mr. Albert Heijn was still a small local grocer, he knew his customers on a personal level that enabled him to respond more adequately to his customers’ daily needs and create a lasting emotional loyalty.

Now Albert Heijn is on a mission to become that ‘personal shopping assistant’ once again. In order to do so, they must shift their focus from food to the daily needs of their customers. But how could the supermarket leverage the emotional loyalty that their heritage built and transform it into eventual growth?

frog teamed up with Albert Heijn to create a service that offers genuine help and relevance to the daily lives of their customers.


A first step in becoming the personal shopping assistant is Appie, a personal shopping service that helps customers remember, choose, and obtain their daily groceries. As a nod to a more personal relationship with consumers, the system adopted the nickname that the Dutch have used when affectionately referring to the supermarket chain for decades.

During the kick-off of the project, Albert Heijn told frog that, “People have been making  lists for ages. In order to be successful we need to be better than pen and paper.” This challenge invigorated the team and became one of our critical measurements throughout design and development. We started by familiarizing ourselves with existing customer insights. Albert Heijn has collected a ton of information on how people make shopping lists, what items they put on their list, what items they end up buying and how much of that they buy every week. One of the key insights we pulled from their research was that in order for consumers to adopt the service, it had to become part of their daily routines and rituals.

With this new digital service, we wanted to make list making available anywhere and anytime, updated in real-time, and shareable with anyone. In addition to list making, we wanted to support customers in their entire shopping experience by helping them find products in the store, offering home delivery and even guiding them as they prepare dinner. Based on the Albert Heijn research, we concluded that when it comes to routine based grocery shopping there are many user scenarios to consider. Some customers add items to their list every day, while others pressure cook and create their list right before they go to the supermarket. Usually when customers go to the supermarket they forget to buy some of the products they put on their list and when they go shopping at an Albert Heijn supermarket they buy 50% more products than they originally had put on their list. And of course the list includes reoccurring items every week as well as special needs items for holidays or the occasional Summer BBQ.

In the end, all of this comes down to a very simple, but constant question “What shall we eat tonight?” Lifestyle preferences are the most influential factors when answering this question.  Albert Heijn structures their product assortment using these key principles that strongly relate to these lifestyle preferences: the best buy, enjoyment and health. These principles are instrumental in defining the way Appie helps customers shop for their groceries.

Leaving pen and paper behind

Appie is primarily designed for the reinvention of list making. Customers can add anything to their list without changing their personal styles. It doesn’t matter whether product descriptions are vague or specific, whether it describes a specific type of tomato, toilet paper or tennis racket, or whether Albert Heijn sells the product or not. Appie never forces customers to do anything, but always tries to offer information where it might be relevant.

Creating a user interface that transforms an analog ritual into a more effective digital platform is an interesting design challenge, The list component has to account for the various ways users reference items (i.e. bananas vs. Chiquita bananas) or how they convey the quantity (i.e. two bananas vs. two bunches of bananas). It was also important to add functionality to the list that helps customers add items to their list quicker (i.e. autosuggest), and personalize the lists by suggesting items based on past purchases, related ingredients for meals, or items that are on sale. Suggestions are tailored to customer needs by using a basic version of personal ranking. For instance, related products that customers bought before and related products that are on sale appear higher in the suggestions lists then other products. Albert Heijn intends to further develop ranking by adding more parameters to the equation in order to generate even better matching suggestions (e.g. ‘items put on the list’, lifestyle preferences like ‘organic’ etc.).

Appie also personalizes the shopping experience by allowing customers to sort their lists according to the layout of the Albert Heijn store. By bridging the gap between digital channels and the physical store, precious time is saved from searching the store for products.
The personal shopping experience is enhanced when customers join Albert Heijn’s loyalty program. The free and anonymous membership comes with a membership card that gives customers discounts based on the products they buy. When the cashier swipes their Bonus membership card at the cash register all of the purchased products are stored in the customer’s Appie profile. Also, their “Bonus” discount based on those products is directly deducted from the total amount they have to pay. This also allows customers to track their purchasing history.

On top of that we made the list available on multiple platforms and enabled customers to share their list with others in order to add items to their list together. It was challenging, yet crucial to ensure that the synchronization rules always kept customers lists up-to-date to seamlessly socialize the lists.

Transforming meals into lists

The Appie service also includes a recipe finder that helps customers find relevant recipes in a database of more than 10,000 recipes. Recipes are an important part of the service because they help customers decide the tricky question of what to eat. Customers can filter down results based on lifestyle preferences and recipe parameters and incorporate those ingredients into their lists like they do with products.

Integrated delivery done right

Using agile methodology (designers, developers, test analysts and a team of product owners working in one space throughout the whole process) frog, Albert Heijn, and other contracted companies (Cap Gemini, Icemobile, and Qualogy).* have been able to collaborate and communicate seamlessly. This enabled the team to rapidly deliver Appie across multiple platforms like the PC and iPad, while the iPhone and Android App being delivered by another Albert Heijn team.* It also allows the team to work with Albert Heijn to progressively enhance Appie with new features and better data every month. 

Where to go next?

Nowadays more than 350,000 households in The Netherlands use the Appie platform daily as their personal shopping assistant that helps them shop for their daily groceries. In the coming year Appie will include enhanced features like home delivery and a more personalized offering.