"Blue sky" exploration of what the online grocery experience of five years in the future could be
Create an experience that Amazon users will easily understand and that complements, not cannibalizes, the brick-and-mortar grocery experience
Focus on online cart building, but continue to leverage Lowes Foods' fun "signature" offerings and content such as farmer bios and recipes
UI / UX / Web design
It’s hard to think of an industry Amazon hasn’t disrupted. Even stalwarts of the American economic landscape, like grocery stores, have had to face new challenges in the 21st century.
Regional grocery chain and then agency client, Lowes Foods, is no exception. Wanting to stay ahead of the curve, they asked The Variable
to envision what the future of online grocery could be, and how that vision could be brought to life through the Lowes Foods brand. And it wasn’t just about buying items… how would Lowes Foods signature experiences like the Chicken Kitchen and Pick-n-Prep, or its large catalog of local recipes and branded content, all coexist happily with product listings as people did their weekly grocery shopping onscreen?
What could the future of online grocery be, and how can that vision be brought to life through the Lowes Foods brand?
To keep users from getting lost, I came up with an idea that shaped the rest of my concept: What if users never actually left the initial page that loaded when they typed “LowesFoods.com” into their browser? Could this initial page serve all the needs of a homepage but adapt its view to show search results, product listings, recipes, even video and written content?
I built an updated version of the Lowes Foods homepage, similarly featuring a hero carousel, branded content, upcoming local events, and recipes. Interactions are all designed around keeping users in the same view as much as possible. Recipe cards flip around just like physical recipes on index cards, videos play in their content frames until expanded out. This way users can explore and follow tangents but never get lost or forget where they started.
When this problem was posed to me, I set to work looking for the best way to make finding exactly what you’re looking for dead simple, whether it’s a product, recipe, or piece of content. The solution became clear: like Amazon, search had to be king — but it would need to be whip smart, showing contextual results as a user types, and never take the user down a tunnel of links.
The hero of this idea then became the adaptive search bar. Upon initial page load, its cursor immediately blinks, ready to proactively predict what you want as you type and serve results based on what’s been entered so far. As soon as typing begins, all the “homepage” content flies down the page to make room for the results view. Like an Amazon search results page, there’s a column for sorting and narrowing down results. Search outputs are returned broken across sections: Groceries (products), Homegrown Stories (branded content), and Delicious Recipes. The concept also allows for ads for Lowes Foods’ Originals (signature experiences like Chicken Kitchen, Beer Den, Pick-n-Prep, the Cakery, Sausage Works, and more) to appear in-line with product results.
And at the very bottom of the search results sits a “Search Again” button, followed by all the homepage content that was initially loaded (the user is always on the “homepage”). Clicking on “Search Again” returns the user to the top of the page and gives them a blank search bar.
As the user types, the bar tries to guess their full search term and shows related searches below. Even after typing their search term, the bar continues to offer contextual hints. The related links could be related products as expected but also links to branded and local content.
Your User-Friendly Grocer
Many other interaction decisions were made around the idea of simplifying the shopping experience. For instance, search results return a grid of product listings in their own respective modules. Clicking an item presents its expanded details in a modal, but if users know what they want, they can select a quantity and add the item(s) to their shopping cart without needing to navigate into a product's entire listing first.
This concept was very well received by the client and helped us win the pitch to incorporate online grocery shopping into their website. We sold this idea as a vision of grocery "five years in the future," and now as I'm five years removed from this project (in 2020) I believe it still holds up well and is still ahead of its time. Especially the aspect of never leaving the homepage, just moving content down and out of the way for search results. It's fun to investigate how a category as mature as grocery can still evolve and try to predict where it will be in five (more) years.