Loblaw: Building customer loyalty through better shopping experiences

About Loblaw Companies Limited

Loblaw Companies Limited (Loblaw) is Canada's food and pharmacy leader and the nation's largest retailer. With nearly 2,500 corporate, franchised, and associate-owned locations, the company employs nearly 200,000 full- and part-time employees. Loblaw has a growing digital business, including online grocery orders picked up at stores, and ecommerce service or sales related to Loblaw's pharmacy, beauty, apparel, and lifestyle offers.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Canada

Loblaw is on a mission to constantly improve the customer experience, gradually moving its critical systems to Google Cloud Platform.

Google Cloud Results

  • Improves performance of online grocery site, leading to higher conversion rates and increased revenue
  • Reclaims up to 50% of Site Reliability Engineers’ time for innovation
  • Enables new real-time personalization features and shopping conveniences for customers
  • Provides greater resiliency, helping to protect customers and revenue

4x improvement of online grocery site performance

As Canada's food and pharmacy leader, more Canadians choose one of Loblaw’s stores for their food and pharmacy needs than any other supermarket. With approximately 200,000 employees, the 100-year-old company is one of Canada’s largest private-sector employer and a major contributor to the country’s high quality of life. More than 12 million people participate in Loblaw’s customer loyalty program, a leading reward program in Canada.

Loblaw's purpose–Live Life Well–is a commitment to the needs of all Canadians, including customers who make one billion transactions in the company's stores annually. The company offers convenient locations, the wellness services of food and drug stores, many of the nation's most-trusted brands, and a keen sense of corporate social responsibility.

Loblaw strives to provide what Canadians need to live life well. Technology plays a major role in achieving this goal, as it helps the company better understand its customers. Many Canadians visit Loblaw’s stores multiple times a week, giving the company a lot of data to mine to provide the ultimate convenience for customers.

For example, the company’s popular Quick Shop feature offers customers an online storefront with personalized product recommendations, recipes, and deals. Personalization is critical for retailers, as it helps provide the inspiration that shoppers are looking for. However, because computations could not be performed on-the-fly, suggestions and offers were based on previous activity and did not always accurately reflect a customer’s current needs. Loblaw saw a major opportunity to amplify online experiences with more timely data analytics.

Loblaw also wanted to enable marketers to run promotions at any time, without requiring conversations with IT to prepare ecommerce systems. The company wasn’t interested in increasing the size of its IT team or shifting more of the team’s time to infrastructure maintenance; instead, it wanted to empower employees to focus on innovation. Rather than expand its on-premises data centers, Loblaw moved to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in phases.

“We thought, ‘why don’t we offload all that effort to someone who’s doing it at scale, making the appropriate investments, and staying ahead in technology so that we can really focus our efforts on driving value to the customer,’” says Hesham Fahmy, Vice President Technology at Loblaw.

The first phase of the multi-phase transition to GCP involved Loblaw’s online grocery system powered by SAP Hybris, for which GCP offers a certified infrastructure.

“We want our tech talent focused on creating better experiences for our customers, not maintaining infrastructure,” says Hesham. “By moving to Google Cloud Platform, we’re improving our capacity, scalability, resiliency, security, and performance—and we don’t have to worry about any of it.”

“Working with Google Cloud Professional Services, and Publicis.Sapient, gave us the outside expertise we needed to make decisions quickly across our large organization. As a result, we completed our initial migration to Google Cloud Platform in just six months compared to a year or more.”

Hesham Fahmy, VP Technology, Loblaw

Migrating twice as fast

To move quickly and minimize business risk, Loblaw brought in Google Cloud Professional Services for a six-week planning and design engagement, focusing on best practices and providing a solid foundation for the migration. Google provided investment as part of a cloud adoption program, demonstrating a strong commitment to Loblaw’s success. Loblaw also enlisted a Google Technical Account Manager (TAM) to answer questions in near real time and provide documentation to maintain flow and momentum. Loblaw also worked with Publicis.Sapient Google Cloud Partner, for staff augmentation and additional cloud expertise.

“Working with Google Cloud Professional Services, and Publicis.Sapient, gave us the outside expertise we needed to make decisions quickly across our large organization,” says Hesham. “As a result, we completed our initial migration to Google Cloud Platform in just six months compared to a year or more.”

Loblaw took a lift-and-shift approach to accelerate the initial migration, moving its existing virtual machines to Google Compute Engine instances and creating Custom Machine Types with optimal amounts of vCPU and memory. With help from Google and Publicis.Sapient, the company designed the cloud architecture in a way that can easily be converted to use Google Kubernetes Engine for automated deployment and scaling. Terraform, by HashiCorp, was extensively used to create and manage GCP projects as code.

With GCP, Loblaw gains elastic scalability and automation that will allow the company to focus on building solutions to address customer needs.

“Our hope is that we can optimize our GCP environment through automation and self-healing to ultimately reclaim approximately 50% of our Site Reliability Engineers’ time for innovation,” says Hesham. “We’ll be able to release features and fixes multiple times a day instead of doing weekly sprints, and constantly improve the customer experience.”

“Moving our online grocery site to Google Cloud Platform gave us a 4x performance increase and the capacity to handle up to 3 times the traffic; and we can scale up at any time.”

Hesham Fahmy, VP Technology, Loblaw

4x faster performance

When testing the new environment after the lift-and-shift, without any further optimization, Loblaw noticed significant improvements in performance, capacity, and resource efficiency. If issues occur, Loblaw can diagnose them quickly using Google Stackdriver for monitoring and logging. GCP also provides greater resiliency than Loblaw’s on-premises data centers, helping to protect customers and revenue.

“Moving our online grocery site to Google Cloud Platform gave us a 4x performance increase and the capacity to handle up to 3 times the traffic; and we can scale up at any time,” says Hesham. “Google Cloud Platform also reduced the compute resources required by one-third, because we can be more efficient with our utilization of VMs.”

With a more responsive ecommerce site and the ability to handle more traffic without impacting the customer experience, Loblaw can run marketing promotions and generate additional revenue. Even when promotions aren’t in effect, faster processing of ecommerce transactions will help yield higher conversion rates and potentially increase revenue.

Constant improvement and innovation

Moving to GCP will help Loblaw work faster to improve popular features and introduce new functionality. For example, Loblaw is making its Quick Shop product suggestion feature more timely, relevant, and useful by using Google BigQuery for real-time analysis of customer data. Instead of receiving suggestions and deals based only on products they purchased or shopped for weeks or months ago, customers will get offers that are more in tune with their current situation. Presenting more compelling offers also helps increase the chance that the customer will purchase the items.

“We don’t want to be data rich but information poor,” says Hesham. “In addition to enhancing our Quick Shop feature, Google BigQuery provides the foundation for understanding our customers using analytics and data science. We’ll be able to make more accurate predictions about what customers want and what they are likely to buy.”

“Google Cloud Platform opens up a whole new world, helping us spur innovation while reducing our time to market for new features that make shopping fun and engaging. It gives us the speed and flexibility we need to drive change.”

Hesham Fahmy, VP Technology, Loblaw

Continuing a proud tradition

By providing more convenient and rewarding shopping experiences, Loblaw continues a long tradition of earning Canadians’ loyalty while protecting and growing its hard-won market share. As Loblaw continues to learn more about its customers without compromising their privacy, it plans to leverage Google machine learning solutions and managed services for SQL and NoSQL databases to build unique experiences for users.

“Google Cloud Platform opens up a whole new world, helping us spur innovation while reducing our time to market for new features that make shopping fun and engaging,” says Hesham. “It gives us the speed and flexibility we need to drive change.”

About Loblaw Companies Limited

Loblaw Companies Limited (Loblaw) is Canada's food and pharmacy leader and the nation's largest retailer. With nearly 2,500 corporate, franchised, and associate-owned locations, the company employs nearly 200,000 full- and part-time employees. Loblaw has a growing digital business, including online grocery orders picked up at stores, and ecommerce service or sales related to Loblaw's pharmacy, beauty, apparel, and lifestyle offers.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Canada
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Try Kubernetes Engine, BigQuery, and other Cloud Platform products with $300 in free credit and 12 months.

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