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A shifting retail environment

Albertsons Cos. serves over 30 million customers each week. Shifting customer demands presented new challenges for the well-established retailer. The grocer decided to embrace the opportunity and meet customers where they are – whether it’s an in-store, online, or mobile experience. The organization wanted to modernize its infrastructure to create a seamless, consistent experience while maintaining the look-and-feel of the individual banners.

A perfect fit

When looking for an identity partner that would provide a seamless customer experience, the organization wanted a solution that would reduce IT maintenance tasks and move it towards innovation. For Albertsons Cos, that meant choosing an IDaaS solution that could centralize, standardize, and secure its infrastructure, while also offering scalability and stability it could rely on.

A solid foundation

After choosing Okta’s Customer Identity Products, Albertsons Cos. wanted its IT team to have a strong understanding of the products, and how they would fit into Albertsons’ infrastructure. The company hired Okta’s Professional Services team to help them through the strategy, training, and implementation processes.

A smooth migration

Albertsons Cos. needed to move the credentials of millions of customers into a single, centralized system without losing any data during the migration. It developed a custom program that would automatically migrate customers to Okta when they signed in and at the same time, automatically shut down their credentials in the legacy system, eliminating duplicate identities.

A trustworthy experience

Albertsons now has a stronger security posture, increased control over access requests, added scalability, and a lower cost-of-ownership. These benefits, along with the enhanced analytic capabilities made possible by Albertsons’ newly unified infrastructure, allow the grocer to provide shoppers with more appropriate offers. For customers, this all adds up to a customized grocery experience, with a company they can trust.

One of America’s largest grocers, Albertsons, decided to give shoppers what they were looking for--a seamless customer experience whether they were shopping in-store, online, or somewhere in-between. To accomplish this, Albertsons needed an identity partner that could help it modernize, consolidate, and secure its IT infrastructure.

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Now, each customer has a single identity. We give them tailored customer experiences, but that doesn't mean they need three different user IDs and passwords.

Ramiya Iyer, GVP, IT Digital, Data and Pharmacy, Albertsons at Albertsons Companies

Benefits

  • Unified, streamlined experience for millions of customers
  • Scalability to accommodate M&A growth
  • Increased visibility into access requests and analytics
  • Lower cost-of-ownership
  • Improved reliability
  • Streamlined user migration

Putting people first

Albertsons Companies can be found all over the United States. In Chicago, it’s Jewel Osco. In Northern California, it’s Safeway. In Pennsylvania, it’s ACME. As one of the largest grocers in the US, Albertsons Cos includes 19 different banners, serving over 30 million customers a week.

“We aspire to be your favorite local supermarket,” says Ramiya Iyer, Albertsons’ GVP, IT Digital, Data and Pharmacy. “Albertsons has grown through acquisition over a number of years. Some of our banners are more than a hundred years old, and they have deep local community ties that we don’t want to break. They're not cookie cutters.”

Albertsons’ customer demographics are as varied as the communities it serves. Everyone needs food, but customer demands are shifting in multiple directions.

“We want to meet the customer where they are,” says Iyer. “We have shoppers who don’t want to leave their homes—they want their groceries delivered within minutes—so we’ve partnered with Instacart to provide rush deliveries. Some customers have a personal relationship with their butcher, we preserve that relationship for that customer by providing an amazing in-store experience.”

This diversity of banners and customer demands created a technological challenge that’s not uncommon for many brick-and-mortar retailers. Albertsons needed to create a seamless, consistent IT experience in both the four-wall and no-wall environments, while maintaining the look-and-feel of the individual banners. The organization saw it as an opportunity to offer their customers a better experience.

“Technology powers our customer experiences, but it’s the groceries that delight them,” says Iyer. “They come to us for the Cheerios, not the technology, but we want the experience to be seamless, whether they’re using our mobile apps, shopping in-store, or using our websites.”

Balancing security and convenience

Albertsons needed to undergo a significant IT transformation in order to improve their customer experience. “We had multiple user IDs and passwords floating around,” says Iyer. “Not just between our banners, but often even between the apps within the same banner. For example, you would have to log in twice to use our e-commerce site and our loyalty site.”

This proliferation of user IDs and passwords increased the attack surface of Albertsons’ IT infrastructure, making it more vulnerable to breaches. Maintaining customer trust is a priority for Albertsons, so any new infrastructure would need to have strong, flexible security baked in.

“We store millions of records of customer data, which means security has to be front and center,” says Roopa Acharya, VP of Software Engineering at Albertsons. “We have to make sure that data is encrypted at all times. To provide an end-to-end customer experience, it’s important to have a security solution that works, whether that’s on the website or in the backend where we store our data.”

Eliminating multiple identities would not only strengthen Albertsons’ security posture, but it would also improve the customer experience by allowing data to flow between apps and banners as necessary, while increasing security around sensitive data and apps.

“We’re looking at the customer journey in a unified way, between our stores and our online properties, because we know our customers often shop online and then go into the store, or start in the store, and they complete their order online,” says Iyer. “So, we’re building technology that provides the customer with a seamless experience in both worlds.”

The benefits of this approach would extend well beyond a more convenient, secure user experience. It would also provide them insight into their customers’ preferences and customize offers that suited their needs.

“The more we can identify our customers, the better personal experience we can offer. But it hinges on having a single customer record,” says Iyer. “And it's no longer about a single transaction. It's about our ability to say, ‘Hey, you used to live on the West Coast, and now you moved to East Coast. Now, you're shopping at Jewel-Osco instead of Safeway. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could take your preferences and apply them at Jewel-Osco? When the coupon comes in, we already know that you like organic 2% milk, so I'll give you the organic 2% milk at Jewel-Osco."

Choosing a partner

To achieve all this, however, Albertsons needed to modernize its infrastructure. It already had a homegrown identity solution, but it required heavy maintenance and didn’t provide a consolidated view of its each shopper. Albertsons considered whether or not to continue investing in the in-house solution and decided to focus on what it does best—selling groceries. Partnering with an existing customer identity and access management solution would allow developers to spend their time exploring ways to provide excellent customer experiences, instead of developing and maintaining a custom solution. This approach had the added benefit of reducing the cost of ownership.

Partnering with an identity provider that could strengthen the organization’s security posture was key. “We want to make sure we don't compromise our customers' identity in any form or fashion,” says Iyer. “Our customers place a lot of trust in us by sharing their information and we want to make sure that we keep it secure.”

The organization also required a high level of stability—Albertsons’ identity solution needed to be stable enough to handle dramatic increases in registration (and therefore traffic) that occur when Albertsons launches a new marketing program or email campaign.

Scalability was critical too, especially since Albertsons' growth strategy includes mergers and acquisitions. “Today we have 20, maybe tomorrow it will be 40 banners,” says Iyer. “We needed a partner who could scale with us and keep us secure, so that was one of the primary factors in terms of selecting our partner.”

Finally, Albertsons’ ideal identity partner would balance all of these requirements with a positive and innovative customer experience. To accomplish this, the company had to centralize and standardize its entire identity infrastructure, across all banners.

Okta ticked all the boxes, so Albertsons decided to purchase Okta’s Customer Identity Products including Authorization, Authentication, User Management, API Access Management and MFA.

“When we did our evaluation, Okta was one of the industry leaders in identity management,” says Acharya. “We did evaluate a couple of other big names, but we felt that Okta had all the bells and whistles we needed. Obviously, you can build everything yourself, but Okta fit our needs perfectly, so there was no need to reinvent the wheel.”

Not only did Okta fit all of Albertsons' technical requirements, Okta's Customer First team gave the IT team confidence that it would have a long-term partner.

Building the backend

Albertsons already had a number of key considerations in mind when it came time to develop a strategy with Okta. Acharya, who oversees Albertsons’ Digital Customer Experience teams, says they considered issues like how sign-in sessions would work, how step-up authentication requirements should change depending on user activity, and how to generate personalized deals based on shopping history.

Training sessions with Okta’s Educational Services team helped Albertsons consider these factors, while also providing a stronger understanding of how cloud-based identity management works, and how it could be integrated with Albertsons’ systems. Okta also helped the team understand the finer details of Okta’s Customer Identity Products.

A seamless strategy

Albertsons needed to figure out the best way to migrate all of its user credentials from its legacy infrastructure built on LDAP and OpenSSO over to Okta. The migration effort was massive, with millions of customers going into a centralized infrastructure.

The organization also had to determine what to do with all that data during the migration process. Albertsons decided to migrate one banner at a time to increase security, and make the migration process more seamless for its customers.

“We needed to figure out how to build a fork that would move our customer data from our legacy system to our new system, while constantly keeping it fresh, active, and up- to-date,” says Acharya. “It was like running a train while we were still building the track. Our business was moving fast, with many projects happening at the same time, all while we were migrating customers to a new system.”

Albertsons also wanted to be able to seamlessly eliminate duplicate customer accounts. “If you registered with Vons, and you also registered with ACME, we had to merge those accounts,” says Acharya. “We had to close one, bring the data in the accounts together, and make sure the migration was seamless.”

An elegant migration

Albertsons and Okta’s Professional Services team worked together, developing a strategy that would get the job done, while minimizing risk and reducing complexity. Okta’s APIs allowed Albertsons to make the backend connections necessary for authentication during the migration.

Acharya’s team also worked with Okta to develop new APIs. “We created ‘just-in-time’ migration,” says Acharya. “It was a piece of code that would run on both our legacy systems and Okta, migrating customers as they signed in. When they were migrated, we would turn off the older identity management system, and that helped reduce the risk.”

With this framework in place, Albertsons was also able to maintain data that hadn’t been migrated. “It also really helped from a time perspective by keeping the accounts up-to-date between our legacy system and our new system, and making sure we were not losing any customer data in the meantime,” says Acharya.

“Okta has been a great partner from the very beginning, when we were still structuring the program,” says Iyer. “With any project, you hit bumps, but this partnership really helped us overcome them. Okta's expertise made it very easy for us from a transition standpoint.”

Acharya agrees. “Having Okta recreate a customer experience and then look under the hood was much easier for my engineering staff.”

Scaling up

Next, Albertsons deployed API Access Management, which eliminates security gaps across Albertsons' digital environment, as well as gives Albertsons the flexibility to make significant changes in the future, without affecting the customer experience.

“In combination with our other Okta products, API Access Management secured our API integrations across Albertsons' digital space,” says Acharya. “It provides a secure mode of communication between our APIs, making them more secure and more scalable. Due to seasonal demands, we roll out APIs to different clients—mobile, web, marketplace, meals and recipes, or our third-party app, OneTouch Fuel. And Okta makes it all very seamless from a customer and integration perspective.”

The Okta Identity Cloud strengthened security in all the right places, added granular policy-driven access management capabilities, and ensured a more seamless customer experience that no longer required users to login multiple times.

A solid foundation

Albertsons is thrilled with the results. “Just last year, our customers had a totally disconnected experience and our cost of ownership was incredibly high, with extra websites running on our loyalty and e-commerce sides,” says Acharya. “The journey we’ve taken has reduced the cost of ownership for us and provided our customers with a seamless shopping experience.”

Creating that seamless experience for customers has also improved analytics and visibility for Albertsons. With a more robust view of how its customers are shopping across banners, Albertsons is better positioned to meet those ever-changing customer demands by providing a customized experience.

With Okta in place, Albertsons is able to react to seasonal demands by scaling its loyalty and e-commerce platforms as necessary. “Whether it’s an email campaign or a brand-new initiative like Marketplace, Okta lets us scale very seamlessly,” says Acharya. “We don’t have to think through ‘how am I scaling my customer identity management?’ Instead, we can focus on how the experience will look from the customer’s point of view. That's where the ease of engaging with Okta’s solution has really helped Albertsons.”

More than anything, Albertsons appreciates the solid foundation that Okta provides, along with consistent reliability. “Our pain points are Okta's pain points,” says Acharya. “They're there to ensure our customers are minimally impacted by whatever is going on, so we can provide a stable solution. Okta is front and center when our customers engage with us, and it’s been a great partnership.”

It’s also a long-term partnership, just like Albertsons hoped it would be. Now that the foundation is in place, the company plans to extend the unified customer experience to newer innovations, like OneTouch Fuel.

“From the beginning, we knew Okta had to be a partner in this journey, from training to technical implementation to day-to-day workshops,” says Acharya. “The partnership helped us dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’, and ensured every risk was assessed. This is our customers’ front-facing experience. It wasn’t something we could fail.”

About Albertsons Companies

Albertsons Companies is one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States, with both a strong local presence and national scale. Operating in 20 states and the District of Columbia, Albertsons Companies is comprised of over 20 well-known banners including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, and Jewel-Osco.