From Self-Service Shopping to Grocery eCommerce: A Century of User Experiences

April 3, 2017 Stefanie Neyland


When Piggly Wiggly opened the first self-service, one-stop grocery store in Memphis, Tennessee more than a century ago, it revolutionized the way customers purchased groceries. Gone were the days of visiting several individual vendors for specific items; customers could now make one efficient stop for it all.



The first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, was opened September 16th, 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee (Image Credit:


What motivated Piggly Wiggly to take such a bold step? They saw that their customers wanted and needed a more convenient shopping experience and then they made it happen. Piggly Wiggly elevated the grocery customer experience and changed it forever.


There have been just a few major shifts in the grocery industry since then, with one of the most disruptive – the evolution of eCommerce – happening today.


Technology may have transformed the user experience (UX), but today’s customers still just want what their great-grandmother wanted: convenient, efficient, and personalized shopping.


So, how can you ensure a great eCommerce user experience?


Get to know UX best practices

An internet search on UX best practices unearths so many opinions, it’s hard to know what’s what. filters eCommerce UX best practices down to these top 8:


  1. Make a strong first impression
  2. Create collections of filterable items with product selection tools
  3. Have a system in place to bring users back
  4. Demonstrate credibility and customer satisfaction
  5. Offer quick customer service tabs that are impossible to miss
  6. Create the fastest checkout process imaginable
  7. Provide a pleasant after-purchase user experience
  8. Display clear, beautiful images with quick loading


How does know what works best? It’s all about solid analytics and research. Ultimately, providing the best eCommerce user experience comes down to knowing your customer and understanding what they want and need. It really hasn’t changed since Piggly Wiggly opened its doors in 1916 – it’s just delivered in a different way.


“User experience (UX) focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations. UX best practices promote improving the quality of the user’s interaction with and perceptions of your product and any related services. At the core of UX is ensuring that users find value in what you are providing to them.”


This is at the heart of Peter Morville’s infamous user experience honeycomb. While developed more than a decade ago, the honeycomb is still extremely relevant to creating the best eCommerce UX today.



[Image credit: infographic by Peter Morville, Semantic Studios]


Morville contends that a great user experience starts with careful consideration of every area of the honeycomb. For the experience to be valuable to the customer, it must also be useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, and useable. Understand your customer, and you can create meaningful content and a great eCommerce UX.


Who’s doing it right, right now?

Many businesses are getting UX design right. Virgin America, winner of the 2016 Webby Award for Best User Experience, comes to mind, but who’s leading in eCommerce UX? One retailer to watch is the Pennsylvania-based Weis Markets


Weis Markets' grocery eCommerce user experience (Image Credit:


Weis Markets follows many, if not all, of’s 8 eCommerce UX best practices, and continues to be one of the top innovators in the grocery industry. 


Best practices of the future

With technology constantly evolving, eCommerce UX best practices will inevitably change, too. Members of the Forbes Technology Council recently predicted 7 ways in which UX best practices will change over the next five years:


  • Natural language processing (e.g. chat bots) will redefine navigation 
  • Voice experiences will become more pervasive
  • There will be a dramatic shift based on the IoT
  • Data views and manipulation will change
  • UX is about to fracture 
  • There will be a deeper and more detailed focus on UX
  • Real-time evidence-based UI improvements will be introduced


eCommerce has already significantly changed the grocery landscape, and up-and-coming technologies are poised to reshape it further.


Stay flexible. Keep in tune with your customer. Be bold like Piggly Wiggly, and you’ll be known for building the best grocery eCommerce UX out there.



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