Innovation in Retail: The Future Grocery Store

Spring 2017
Role: Captain, 9-member team
Partners: NCR, Hy-Vee

Problem: Brick and mortar retail is facing increased competition and needs to know how to remain competitive in 10 years.

Three teams of three worked with mid-western grocery retailer Hy-Vee, known for its friendly customer service and diverse range of services, to generate solutions that would address stakeholder pain points and/or enhance stakeholder gain points. I was a member of one of these three teams and also oversaw the larger 9-person team for research, deliverables, and communication with our sponsor, NCR, and our client, Hy-Vee.



Going into this project, our team knew we needed to determine who are our stakeholders, what their pain and gain points are, how they experience Hy-Vee, and what their motivations are.

One challenge our team faced during the research phase was the fact that we were located in the southeast, and Hy-Vee stores are only in the mid-west. Because of this, the first phase of our research was heavily dependent on secondary sources. In addition, Hy-Vee is a privately-owned company, which meant we didn’t have access to annual reports and were reliant on industry publications.

Our secondary research included:

  • Social Media to see how customers felt about and viewed Hy-Vee
  • Online Reviews to understand what customers and employees valued and disliked about Hy-Vee
  • Literature review to learn about customer loyalty and shopping habits
  • Website and mobile app evaluations to know how current technology impacts the customer experience
  • Competitive analysis of convenience stores, grocery stores, and superstores to understand the competitive landscape
  • Industry publications to know larger trends and see where Hy-Vee fits in

We also conducted interviews with NCR employees and Hy-Vee IT employees to help inform our stakeholder map and our SWOT analysis.

At this point we were also able to begin developing our personas for customers and employees.


Four team members had the opportunity to visit Hy-Vee stores. Two visited stores in Minneapolis, MN and two in Des Moines, IA, visiting eight stores total. We made a plan beforehand for on-site research activities, including a set of interview questions for customers, a set for employees, and a list of items to observe. These visits made a world of difference.

From our observations and interviews, we synthesized our findings and came up with a set of key insights that could be areas to consider for design solutions.

Key Insights: Gain Points

  • Family and community oriented
  • Autonomy for stores and employees
  • Diverse range of products and services
  • Pleasant, visually-appealing environment

Key Insights: Pain Points

  • Hectic/disjointed checkout and POS system
  • Large store size
  • High price points


And these insights combined with secondary research led us to identify the following opportunities:

  • More than shopping time
  • Quality customer interactions
  • Diversification of entrance/exit flow
  • Reduced time spent seeking items
  • Balanced price, quality, and convenience
  • Engaged and educated community

Design Phase: Infotaining Innovation: The “Disney” of Grocery Stores

Moving into the design phase, the three teams of three divided, decided where to focus their solutioning, brainstormed solutions, then prototyped and tested them.

My team chose to focus our innovations in the following areas, which we though would lead to the largest impact:

  • POS challenges – the need for friction-free retail
  • Customer information needs – the need for selection assistance
  • Value of local community – the need for community engagement
  • Trend towards healthier and fresher products – the need for freshness

One quote that we heard a few times during our research: “Hy-Vee is like the Disney of grocery stores.”

That idea stuck with us as we started to brainstorm solutions and narrow our scope further to areas that we felt like best addressed the user needs and fit the Hy-Vee brand. Therefore, we considered how we might create a visual feast that draws customers into the stores and maintains their interest, create an interactive environment that strengthens the connection between customers and touchpoints in a way that personalizes their experience, and create services that are infotaining and help customers make decisions in fun ways.

We prototyped and tested our ideas where possible. For example, we used foamcore and printouts of our wireframes to wizard-of-oz what it would be like for a customer to use our interactive shelves with screens that have filters to assist with product selection. It also involved the use of our Hy-Vee wristband/mobile app, which would allow customers to select items by scanning rather than by physically taking the item with them. This helped us visualize the interaction and identify smal changes that would make the experience more seamless.


Final Designs

Our final design is what we call “infotaining innovation.” We envision the future Hy-Vee as a marketplace where customers of all ages are drawn to the Hy-Vee store for more than just running errands. They go there to learn, to socialize, and to be entertained. The new marketplace implements technology including wearables, mobile scanning, robotics, and in-store touch screens.

When a customer arrives at the Hy-Vee entrance, they step out of their self-driving car, which then goes to park for them. They walk in and find a stand selling that week’s items on sale with an employee cooking recipes using those ingredients and offering samples. The customer approaches the kiosk and finds an interface that allows them to find and save recipes based on the ingredients of their choosing. Next, they walk over to the pasta-sauce stand where they choose their ingredients, and a Hy-Vee employee places them in a sauce-making robot. The employee scans their phone or wristband, and the sauce is transported to the customer’s “cart” on the packing level upstairs. The customer notices people in the community gathering space and uses the kiosk to sign up for a cooking event. They scan their wearable/phone to register. Once they’re ready to go, they confirm their purchases via phone or kiosk and head to the exit lounge where they get a coffee while waiting their estimated 5 minutes until their cart is ready. Once ready, they walk outside and a Hy-Vee employee is waiting at their car to load in the groceries. Then they’re off the enjoy the rest of their day!