Please enable JS


"One of the biggest pain points in my life right now is managing the food and eating habits of my family."

- A working mom



DATE: AUG - DEC 2013



Grocery Shopping Innovation was a project conducted at NREC for Whole Foods. GSI is a system that enables users simplify their grocery shopping experience and connect it with planning and cooking their meals at home.

In obligation with protecting the classified information, I have focused on the design process and left out the details of the core technology and the design.

As a Design Strategist at NREC, I was responsible for the overall design and development of the system as well as the mobile application. This included extensive user research for need finding, competitive benchmarking, technology transfer research, conceptualizing and architecting the system as well as building wireframes and prototypes of the mobile application and tangible interfaces.

TEAM: Radhika Sawhney (Design Strategist), Alec Wise (Design Strategist), Dr. Dimi Apostolopoulos (PI)


Large-scale retail grocery stores face a lot of challenges managing day-to-day activities, such as personnel and inventory management. Moreover, due to razor thin margins, they need to prevent circumstances where they are losing money through Shrinkage (theft, loss, damage) or losing business through Out of Stock situations.

Customers, on the other hand are looking for a better experience where they can save time by easily navigating through stores and checking out fast without having to wait in long queues. They want their shopping experience to be as cost effective as possible where they are getting the best deals, and buying the amount of food they need without any wastage. Health and nutrition is a major concern for them, as they want to ensure they are eating healthy and safe food.

The challenge was to use technology to simultaneously address the problems faced by customers as well as grocery stores in a cost effective manner.


Drivers: Time, Money, Motivation & Information

Extensive research on needs analysis of grocery store management as well as the customers led us to frame the following goal:

Provide customers with a shopping experience that utilizes Whole Foods’ efficiently to increase customer satisfaction – saving them time & money, motivating them to eat right, and providing the information they need.


We conducted user interviews to get a better understand of how people shop, how they manage their foods and what are the major problems they face. Here are some quotes from the user interviews:


The solution had to balance the needs of the grocery stores as well as the customers.



Grocery Shopping Innovation is a system that connects the shopping experience at the store with the experience at home. It enables the store to track and manage their inventory in an effective manner, and receive notifications when items are running out. From the customer’s point of view, they can get more information about the products they are purchasing, sync with their grocery lists and check out without waiting in queues.

At home, this system enables them to keep track of items they have purchased, plan their meals and access recipes based on the grocery at home.


Here is how the product fits into the management of the grocery store:

  • Items can be tracked as they are stocked on the shelves
  • The store receives updates if an item is nearing or past its expiry date.
  • The store receives notifications when items are running low or are out of stock.

    Grocery Store Innovation system enhances a customers shopping experience by making it a more seamless and intuitive process. Here is how it fits into the journey of a customer:

  • The customer, Emily (a persona created for the project) sets up her profile on the Whole Foods mobile application prior to her trip to the store.
  • She creates a shopping list on the app.
  • She checks into the store when she arrives.
  • She can get more information about the products, such as price, nutritional info, deals and promotions, etc.
  • The grocery list gets updated as the items are added to the carts.
  • As she walks out of the store, the items in the cart are detected and can be automatically paid for with her credit card information entered in the app.

    This experience continues for the customer at home:

  • Emily can access recipes according to the products she has bought.
  • She can plan meals for the week based on the food that she purchased.
  • She can add/remove items in her inventory, using the information to update her grocery list.


    Stakeholder Analysis

    One of the first steps was to map out a diagram of the various individuals and organizations that are involved in or affected by the grocery shopping experience.

    The Customers (Shoppers) and the Stores were identified as primary stakeholders. Family members, roommates and store employees were mapped out as secondary stakeholders. Subsequent stakeholders such as institutions and establishments were placed in the outer layers.

    This map gave us a clear understanding of whose needs and aspirations are of prime value, and what other things we need to consider in the course of the development of this project.

    Opportunity Feasibility Analysis

    We came up with a list of opportunities within the grocery shopping framework to understand and analyze the most pressing issues. These opportunities were scrutinized through a weighted matrix that contained certain criteria like Market Reach, Cost, Scalability, etc. to select the most feasible ones.

    Objective Tree

    This is an interesting technique that we picked up from Systems Engineering. We broke the ‘System’ into ‘Sub-systems’ and ‘Components’, which enabled us to identify specific ‘Requirements’ that our solution needed to have for the system to work effectively.

    Interviews and User Journey Maps

    We conducted extensive user interviews with a varied subject group that included single males and females, young couples, couples with children, families, etc. These interviews helped us identify pressing needs of these stakeholders and enabled us to understand their food journey, from shopping to eating. This gave us a better picture of how our solution could integrate into their lives, while satisfying their needs and problems.

    Creating Personas

    Using data from user interviews, personas were created to represent the information we found about the users and highlight their respective problems.

    Competitive Benchmarking

    We compiled and studied a list of existing products and services in the grocery shopping and planning sector to understand the landscape, and figure out how we fit in.


    Generative Sessions

    Leveraging the insights from the primary and secondary research, we conduct a series of brainstorming sessions to generate feasible concepts.

    User Testing

    Throughout the design process, we constantly tested and sought feedback from our target audience to refine, modify, select and co-create the final solution.

    Prototyping - Designing a Pilot Study

    After selecting the final design, we created a prototype which included funtional elements of the technology used for tracking grocery items, along with a design for a native mobile application. Due to confidentiality agreements, I am not able to depict the final design or the prototypes.

    Designing a Pilot Study for Whole Foods

    Our solution required a substantial system change at the Whole Foods Store level, and in order to test and get this with customers, we designed a pilot study that Whole Foods could implement in certain sections of their stores. This included the design and development of a special aisle, termed as 'The Future Store', where customers could experience our product in its beta stage.

    This pilot study was not only instrumental in testing the reactions and behaviors of the users, but also enabled Whole Foods to promote the sales of their own 365 Everyday Value Brand, which typically has a 10-15% higher margin than the other brands and accounted for 12% of the sales at Whole Foods.