Loblaw meets the Covid-19 challenge using Contentful

Loblaw meets the COVID-19 challenge using Contentful
July 6, 2020


When Covid-19 forced retailers around the world to suddenly change how people could shop, Loblaw was ready to tell customers how it would all work. That’s because months before anyone had even heard of the novel coronavirus, Loblaw Digital, a branch of Canada’s largest retailer, had already begun consolidating some of its websites onto a unified content platform: Contentful.

Loblaw began migrating some of its websites to Contentful in the fall of 2019. By the time the pandemic arrived a few months later, Loblaw was able to quickly advise customers of the changes it was making to enhance customer and employee health and safety.

Canada’s largest retailer consolidates on a single unified online platform

Loblaw operates 1,100 retail stores, 1,300 pharmacies and 700 PC Express locations where people can pick up groceries they’ve ordered online. In addition to these physical locations, Loblaw operates more than 300 websites, which as of 2019 ran on at least five different CMSes. 

Loblaw wanted to consolidate many of its online brand and retail spaces to a single unified content platform to address a number of issues:

  • Customers found the websites difficult to navigate, and the experience of moving between websites could be awkward.

  • Managing the websites was a highly manual process, making it difficult for technology teams to move as quickly as the business would like.

  • Operating costs were too high.

Loblaw’s decision to move to Contentful was a careful and thoughtful process — and a natural choice. 

“We visited the Contentful head office in San Francisco, met the CTO, CFO and core leadership of the team,” says Janet Lin, senior director of customer engagement technologies at Loblaw. “Seeing the passion, talent and culture of the Contentful leadership team, we had the confidence to move ahead. We think it’s a great partnership.”

How Contentful helped Loblaw respond quickly to Covid-19

Loblaw had already migrated two of its brand websites to Contentful when the Covid-19 pandemic forced companies to adopt physical distancing practices. Because Loblaw had already begun using Contentful, it could quickly publish information about these new practices on its retail and brand websites.  

Loblaw started with PC Express, which allows people to order groceries online and pick them up at one of 700 locations across Canada.

“Contentful answered our need to convey to our customers the constantly evolving, high-impact changes to our in-store and digital operating models,” says Jerrold Litwinenko, director of digital experiences at Loblaw Digital.  

“As COVID hit, like most online grocery platforms, we saw a massive instant spike in demand, which meant a lot of changes were needed. We had to pivot to something different for our home pages specifically, to communicate all these changes, and to continuously update and inform customers as the situation fluidly and dynamically changed.” 

Within just a few days, Loblaws was able to publish updated home pages for a number of its websites, and then incrementally roll these changes out across all of Loblaw’s online grocery banners that offer PC Express. This included loblaws.ca and realcanadiansuperstore.ca.

Timely updates are extremely important, as Loblaw experienced a large uptick in traffic to PC Express. According to a report in The Globe and Mail, order volumes are three times higher than normal, growth that Loblaw Digital hadn’t expected to see for years. 

While part of the increase is from existing customers stocking up on food and other essential items, Loblaw also gained a large number of new customers. “The home page is really ground zero for introducing new customers to our service and how our service is evolving,” says Jerrold.

For both new and repeat customers, there have been plenty of changes for Loblaw to announce. These include special hours for seniors and anyone else who may be vulnerable, purchase limits on some items, the temporary elimination of pickup fees for online orders and added temporary pickup windows for frontline health workers. “They are taxed enough,” Jerrold says. “We’re trying to enable them and simplify their lives by giving them priority access to groceries.” 

Contentful enabled Loblaw teams to quickly pivot from marketing content to communicating critical information for shopping in the time of Covid-19. “We feel great about how quickly we were able to stand up these changes, and grateful we have a tool like Contentful to facilitate this,” Jerrold says.

How Loblaw migrated their retail sites to Contentful

Loblaw was able to use Contentful easily because of the work the company had done in 2019.  The Digital Experience (DX) team took on the modernization of a large number of Loblaw legacy websites, with a brief that included migrating them to cloud hosting, redesigning visual presentation and user experience, and reducing the number of CMSes for cost efficiency and training alignment. The team also had to make sure that every web experience was fully accessible, complying with both Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) and international WCAG 2.0 standards.

“We originally established Contentful as a way to accelerate that work, enabling scale, speed and cost control,” Jerrold says.

Loblaw Digital opted for a large shared space when it signed up for a Contentful premium plan. “We’ve created very flat content models that give us the ability to work with a small number of content types, but still have full flexibility so we can design front-end experiences that are completely separate from the platform and the content modeling piece,” Jerrold says. 

In addition to flexibility, Contentful has delivered great business benefits. “We’ve been able to fast-track the deprecation of legacy CMSes, and with that has come some cost savings and a reduced need for third-party contracts to support some of those,” Jerrold says.

The first site Jerrold’s team launched on Contentful was for the President’s Choice Children’s Charity. The charity’s role is to build programs for feeding children in need, award grants to schools to carry them out and gather donations. Loblaw also sends food to schoolchildren's homes for weekend meals through a backpack program. 

“We launched the site in late 2019. As COVID struck and students were forced out of schools, we recognized quickly that the charity and the funding we used to feed kids in schools would need to quickly pivot,” Jerrold says. “To do that, we had to communicate those changes to website visitors, so donations could be funneled elsewhere.”

Using Contentful, Loblaw Digital quickly enabled an alert function in the President’s Choice Children’s Charity site — a function that was originally meant to be deployed in a future site. The team used an existing template in Contentful, and within just a few hours, built a news blog section for the charity site. The team added this section to the site navigation, along with rich multimedia content. 

It all added up to a completely new experience on the website. “We were able to support messaging around the charity’s funding, and communicate that the charity’s activities would be temporarily pivoting as a result of COVID,” Jerrold says.

Contentful and Loblaw’s post-Covid-19 business model

Before Covid-19, online grocery shopping was well below 10 percent of the market in North America. But as the pandemic has driven a sudden spike in online shopping — one that may well never drop back to previous levels — Loblaw continues to scale up to handle the extra demand. 

The digital team is also looking at other areas of the business ripe for change. One of these is Loblaw’s loyalty program. It has 18 million members, almost half of Canada’s total population.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to engage that audience in new ways,” Jerrold says. “We’re actively looking at how we can bring more content into the mix, and increase frequency of visits to the loyalty platform. We are going to be looking to Contentful as a solution for that.”

Learn more about managing content at enterprise scale.

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