How Midwest Grocer Schnucks Uses Data To Improve Daily Lives In The Diverse Communities It Serves

The corner grocery store has long been at the heart of the American experience. For generations, grocery stores and supermarkets have been at the center of our daily lives. They are institutions and serve as gathering places within our communities. The grocery store is an inextricable element of family life in America.

Schnuck Markets, Inc.

is a supermarket chain based in the American heartland, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. The company was founded in 1939 and currently operates 112 grocery stores in four states in the American heartland — Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Schnucks is one of the largest privately held supermarket chains in the United States, reporting annual revenues greater than $3B.

Tom Henry serves as Chief Data and Deputy Chief Information Officer for Schnucks, a role he has held since 2019. Henry also serves as a member of the company’s core leadership group known as the Strategy Team. Prior to Schnucks, he previously held the position of Chief Data Officer at Express Scripts, the $100B pharmacy benefits company acquired by Cigna in 2018.

Henry manifests a visionary perspective in his data and technology leadership capacities with Schnucks — one he says aligns with the company’s purpose of “nourishing people’s lives”, through the delivery of food and grocery services. One of the company’s core values is to “Try New Things.” The Schnucks leadership team lives this value in part by giving its technology teammates the space and resources to innovate and create industry-leading robotic, digital and data solutions. As part of his mandate, Henry sees a wonderful opportunity to utilize data wisely and responsibly to make informed decisions which result in services that benefit customers, employees, and the communities which Schnucks serves.

Henry believes that becoming data-driven begins with strong communications. Two of his guiding principles are to “focus on what matters to your business” and to “communicate at the level of your audience.” Henry believes that to deliver business outcomes which enhance the customer experience, organizations must develop and execute a plan which answers key questions. For example, what are the ways in which data can be leveraged to achieve the company’s business goals and improve the customer shopping experience? This requires an understanding and articulation of business needs and imperatives for each department within the company.

Data enablement for any company begins with building a data and analytic strategy for the organization. Henry states that step one is to work with the executive sponsor and business partners to establish reasonable expectations for the data and analytics organization and its desired goal state. This should result in a well-developed and articulated vision and mission with specific goals and objectives to be delivered within a specific timeframe.

Step two is to create an honest assessment of the organization’s current state. Begin by taking inventory of the company’s data assets. Document the condition of the Enterprise Information Management foundation (which is comprised of the physical data capabilities of the company, including data architecture, data exchange, metadata, business intelligence and analytic tools, and its Big Data infrastructure). Catalog the Data and Analytic Governance operations (the procedural capabilities, including information security, data quality management, information lifecycle management, data use policies and procedures, and the data team’s operating model).

Finally, create a skill profile of the talent of the data professionals within the enterprise. The third and final step in the strategy development process is to develop a roadmap that moves the organization from its current state to its desired future state. This should propel the organization up the business analytic maturity curve. From base-level descriptive and predictive analytics to advanced prescriptive and AI-based (cognitive) analytic capabilities.

Core to the Schnucks shopping experience is the establishment of an omnichannel customer experience that ensures consistent treatment and engagement with the customer no matter how or where the customer shops or engages with the brand. In short, the mandate is to deliver a consistent customer experience which allows each customer to expect seamless, reliable, and easy interaction. The customer interaction channels include physical supermarkets, call centers, an online marketplace, mobile applications, e-mail, social media, and the company’s website.

Schnucks loyalty program, Schnucks Rewards, includes 1.8M+ members and is at the heart of the company’s strategy to provide a rich, omnichannel customer experience. The data available from customers’ shopping experiences offer ample opportunities to construct unique shopper journeys, and to deliver consistent, tailored customer experiences across all touchpoints. Further, Schnucks can then offer customers new products and experiences with a “community of like-minded partners.” The outcome of the omnichannel experience is to “deliver a lifelong customer relationship comprised of remarkable experiences.” Schnucks refers to this as the “Seamless Customer Experience.”

Personalization is key to satisfying the needs of each unique and individual customer. Artificial Intelligence capabilities are used to help improve the customer shopping experience by offering “next best action” recommendations for the shopper. Personalized shopping coupons can be sent to customers based on their needs and shopping patterns.

Knowing each customer allows Schnucks to tailor the shopping experience in a way that meets their needs and results in an enhanced customer shopping experience and relationship over many years. Customer benefits include the ability to earn rewards, organize your shopping list, Clip and Save with personalized coupons, order ahead to avoid lines, browse recipes, and manage health and wellness. For each customer, this translates into shopping with ease, time savings, saving money, and ensuring value.

As Tom Henry notes, measurement is critical to success and improvement. Examples of results of Schnucks personalization efforts include improvements in incremental sales resulting from a soft drink personalization campaign, yielding five times the ROI, and again for a breakfast cereal personalization campaign, yielding five times the ROI. These are results that demonstrate measurable outcomes from data initiatives.

Social responsibility is core to the corporate mission of the company. Schnucks has built a reputation for being a responsible partner in every community that it serves, which includes a diverse set of communities ranging from highly urban to rural. From the St. Louis Metropolitan Area to Northern Illinois to Southern Indiana, Schnucks takes a strong and personal interest in understanding the needs of the communities that it serves, striving to be a positive force, where a grocery store often serves as a center for community social interaction and stability.

Schnucks’ community pillars are centered on fighting food insecurity, developing the workforce, and implementation of a robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan, Unity Is Power. In addition, the company spearheaded an innovative program called, Donate Your Rewards, where the omnichannel customer experience extends by incorporating direct community impact. The program enables customers to donate their Schnucks Rewards points to a select number of nonprofits based on the geographic area near their selected “home store” as designated in the Schnucks Rewards app.

In addition to its close ties to the local communities that it serves, Schnucks also works with local universities. For several years, Schnucks has worked closely with Washington University in St. Louis and its Center for Analytics and Business Intelligence (CABI) to help develop and support a data and analytics curriculum for their master’s degree and MBA programs. Craig Schnuck, Chairman Emeritus of Schnucks, currently serves on Washington University’s Board as immediate past Chairman. The company also maintains a strong and active relationship with the University of Missouri.

Being data-driven is an ambition that many companies strive to achieve. Schnucks is a living example of using data each and every day to better serve its teammates, customers and the communities in which it operates, and in doing so, nourishing people’s daily lives in the process.