Digitisation must move faster for "food tech company" Albert Heijn

Self scanners at supermarket retailer Albert Heijn
Photo: Dutchmen Photography / Shutterstock.com

Albert Heijn is no longer just a supermarket chain, but a "food technology company". As far as chief executive Marit van Egmond is concerned, digitisation can go even faster: goodbye tills and hello far-reaching personalisation.


Self-scan tills already outdated

"I don't see why we have to stick to queues with employees at the end", says Marit van Egmond, CEO of Albert Heijn since 2019. According to her, the innovation and digitisation of food retail are on the slow side. "If you look at how many people are banking digitally at home, I think: they must also be able to do their shopping digitally", says Van Egmond to Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.


Cash registers will soon be a thing of the past: the payment process is already digitising at an unprecedented rate, thanks to the corona pandemic. Sixty per cent of transactions are already processed through self-scan, but even self-scan tills will soon be superfluous. Since Covid-19, customers want to pay contactless, shop goal-oriented and consequently turn to online shopping. Today, the Albert Heijn mobile app has 1.8 million users each week. In early 2019 (when the new CEO took office) there were only 200 thousand users. Elderly people have also turned to the app in big numbers.


Getting to know customers even better

Van Egmond believes that these changes will be permanent. And that is a good thing because AH no longer calls itself a supermarket chain, but a "food technology company, with a love for food but most certainly also a love for technology". "The company already employs 500 technology workers, and we can add at least 200 more", she says to trade magazine Distrifood.


Albert Heijn believes in an Amazon-like future: cashless supermarkets where you just walk in and out, with automated checkout. This requires far-reaching data knowledge and personalisation. "In the future, I imagine that we will get know our customer increasingly better", says the chief executive: "that way we know what their preferences are". The retailer wants to be able to "set things up in advance" online, show customers the way around the store through their smartphone, warn customers for their allergies and give them tailor-made advice, by for example suggesting a wine to accompany a certain cut of meat.


One billion euro online

This innovation is necessary because competitors Jumbo and online supermarket Picnic are at Albert Heijn's heels. In response, the Dutch market leader launched a trial with AH Compact in Haarlem. The test project consisted of free delivery service with a limited product range. The experiment proved to be successful and will be rolled out in the future.


This year, AH will reach the milestone of an online turnover of one billion euro, making the chain the largest online food retailer in the Netherlands. In Belgium, the retailer even wants to use e-commerce as a means of expansion, to reach locations where there are no actual stores yet. This only goes to show that the importance of digitalisation continues to increase.