Localization: what others can learn from HEB

Ask any big box retailer or grocer and they will tell you that localization is on their 2015 strategy handout. Even Target has been pushing this buzzword around and rallying up its employees to get on the “local” train. But why is localization so important? What is the benefit that this brings? Besides increased sales, localization contributes directly to brand equity and customer loyalty, and if you’re really good, acceptance into your customers’ community.

When I think of a company that does localization right, I instantly think of HEB. Being homegrown in Texas, HEB has been a part of my life, but to everyone that lives in ain’t-Texas, this comparison goes over their head. So let me tell you specific examples of how HEB’s localization makes its customers feel it’s a part of their neighborhood.

The HEB by my parents’ house is in a neighborhood with a higher density of Muslims. How do you think a grocer can relate to its Muslim shopper? Halal meat options? Ok, that’s a good start. But HEB didn’t stop there: for Ramadan, HEB put out huge crates of figs (the traditional fast-breaker eaten after sunset) and bottles of Rooh Afza (rose syrup that is a really popular summer drink ingredient in the Middle East and Pakistan). Those are the kinds of things that Indo-Paki Muslims don’t expect westerners to “get” and when they do, much appreciation and loyalty is earned in return. (Also, this is a good example of how not every Texan is Islamophobic, but let’s keep that conversation aside).

In Austin, there’s an HEB by the University of Texas at Austin campus and that location embraces the fact that most of its customers are college kids. Result? It’s open 24 hours a day! Besides that, the snack aisle has been expanded to include more rows of Chewy bars and the Pastaroni section nods to its collegiate guest. Ramadan didn’t see any figs or rose syrup, but the beginning of the semester does introduce a small section of red Solo cups and ping pong balls (wonder what the relation between those two products is?!).

While other retailers and grocers are relying on complex loyalty cards and credit cards (ahem, Target) to gather shopper information, HEB relies instead on qualitative neighborhood studies to drive its hyper-localized approach. Ask any Texan, and they won’t stop affirming their love for their HEB!


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