FreshDirect Stocks Up on Data to Deliver Customized Experiences

FreshDirect is more than just an online grocer.

“We are, at the end of the day, a food and technology company,” says Aaron Cano, the company’s VP of consumer analytics. “Food comes first.”

But it’s not just the food that drives customers to FreshDirect’s virtual pantry; it’s the trust that the company builds with its customers through personalization that makes the customer experience so delectable. 

One of the major perks of FreshDirect’s business is that it appeals to everyone. After all, everyone has to eat. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has the same dietary needs and preferences. Cano explains that some customers, for instance, are major foodies or strive to cook healthy meals; on the other hand, others view food as simply a necessity. Certainly, there are different food dynamics within the same family. A child may have a sensitivity to gluten, while a parent is vegetarian. So FreshDirect must identify who’s doing the shopping and how the online grocery brand can tailor the experience to that specific individual.

To do just that, FreshDirect relies on purchase and behavioral data. And if there’s one thing FreshDirect has in stock, it’s data. 

“A typical, average person will spend two hours grocery shopping a week, which is a lot,” Cano notes. “When you’re doing a weekly or biweekly grocery shop, it’s [for] 25 to 30 items, and you’re doing it 50 times a year—at least 45. That’s a lot of data.”

By looking at shoppers’ on-site behaviors,—e.g. the items they put in their cart, how often they visit the site, and on what devices—FreshDirect can deliver targeted banner ads, customized offers, and specific product suggestions through its recommendation engine. This culmination of information also helps FreshDirect determine where customers are in their overall journeys. So when a customer visits the site two or three times a week and consistently purchases the same items, FreshDirect knows that the customer is, most likely, a regular. Conversely, a new customer will usually buy trial items, like milk or cereal, during their first few visits before purchasing fruit, meat, or vegetables.

As for retaining customers, Cano says the secret ingredient is trust; and that trust is fostered by education and continuous engagement. In terms of education, FreshDirect includes inserts inside of customers’ boxes that notify them of new company updates, food items that are in season, and targeted recipes. Email also plays a major role in FreshDirect’s strategy. In addition to relying on the channel to send delivery notifications, FreshDirect uses email to tell stories about its brand and its food.

When it comes to keeping customers engaged, FreshDirect aims to inspire its patrons, primarily through content. The online grocer uploads comedic videos about seafood, writes entertaining ideas on its blog, and produces a plethora of recipes based on trends, dietary concerns, courses, and special events.

Technology also helps FreshDirect keep customers engaged. Consider Popcart, which the brand launched this past August in partnership with social recipe network Foodily. Customers can drop the bookmarklet tool into their bookmark bar on their browser, look at recipes anywhere on the Internet, have Popcart find all of the recipe ingredients on FreshDirect and add them to their shopping carts.

“It’s those kinds of helpful tools and solutions that keeps customers engaged with us,” Cano says. “We’re always about trying innovative things, whether it’s food or technology.”

To keep track of customers’ data, FreshDirect uses SAS’s analytics technology. These insights help FreshDirect maintain customer engagement and deliver more relevant experiences. For instance, analytics helps FreshDirect determine which email segments best respond to specific forms of content.

“It’s about changing the conversation and that, to me, is what analytics is all about….I view analytics as the voice of the customer,” Cano says.

However, Cano says that far too often marketers view the analytics department as a service, rather than as players on the same team. He warns that if companies want to succeed, the two divisions—along with the rest of the company—have to be on the same page.

“They’re partners,” Cano says. “Analytics is not a service organization.”

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