How United Supermarkets Stopped Selling Itself Short in the Delivery Game

Lisa Johnston
Editor-in-Chief, CGT
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One of United Supermarkets’ delivery vehicles

Being open to change is the crucial foundation of the growth mindset required in today’s retail landscape. For United Supermarkets, that includes leveraging technology in order to better serve its customers during the pandemic.

As the Albertsons Companies-owned grocer sought to grow its e-commerce strategy, it knew it needed a more efficient delivery system. The company, which has 95 locations across Texas and New Mexico, had initially moved cautiously in grocery delivery, with just a handful of locations serving as fulfillment hubs.

Though United knew the demand was there — even during those pre-pandemic days — it remained conservative in the number of orders it felt it could successfully deliver.

“It's funny to think about now, because we would route our orders manually, whether it was pen and paper or print out Google Maps,” Chris Farr, director of e-commerce, tells RIS News, “and the driver’s preference would [decide] how we would deliver that order.”  

Needless to say, the grocer knew this method was often leaving the prospect of timely deliveries up to chance, and so it partnered with logistics solutions provider Onfleet in 2016, drawn both to the ease of launching the platform and its use.

“Just keeping an open mindset [is important] because expectations we think we’re going to see tend to be well beyond that — in a good way.”

Getting associate buy-in on a new tech initiative is crucial for any retailer, and United’s partnership with Onfleet ended up being an easy selling point, says Farr. In addition to helping drivers plan their routes and days, the technology also aids them in determining the best way to load their trucks.

Receiving this visibility into their capacity in turn translates into greater confidence on drivers’ ability to manage the volume, and the real-time analytics have enabled the grocer to increase the number of orders it can fulfill based on both time efficiency and capacity by 50%.

Incorporating data and analytics into a fulfillment strategy is crucial in today’s retail environment, Farr notes, and having that backbone data in there to make informed decisions is important given the added expense into each delivery, enabling retailers to have visibility into their cost per delivery.  

Usability has been key to implementation success, he said. “As we scale, the more stores we have, the more teams we have, the more guests that use the platform. Being able to train hundreds of team members on how to use something [in Onfleet], or numerous stores on how to scale something up, has become even more apparent here lately.”  

For other retailers looking to scale their e-commerce fulfillment strategies, Farr advises not to sell themselves short on what can be accomplished. The once-cautious company has now become very aggressive over the last six months in how quickly it can turn around in order.

“At times we tend to be a little too cautious on thinking outside the box,” he says. “This is definitely an industry that's changing at a very rapid rate. … Just keeping an open mindset [is important] because expectations we think we’re going to see tend to be well beyond that — in a good way.”

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