Case Study

Can Simply Reminding People to Go Shopping Save Them Money on Groceries?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the most effective anti- hunger safety net program. SNAP is an integral part of the American hunger safety net – with 42 million people, roughly one in seven Americans, currently receiving SNAP benefits.

Sadly, most SNAP participants do not receive enough to cover their grocery bills: the average family uses up 80% of their benefits in just two weeks. How can we help people stretch these benefits?

Last year, we partnered with Propel, a fintech company that makes a mobile app called Fresh EBT, which allows SNAP participants to easily check their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card balance and transaction history. Fresh EBT users can also find stores that accept SNAP, make a shopping list, clip digital coupons, and access other resources that help them save money and stretch their EBT dollars.

In our first experiment with Propel, we found that breaking up the monthly SNAP deposit into four weeks and displaying a recommended weekly budget helped users make their benefits last up to three days longer. This resulted in about nine extra meals per month. The experiment was so successful that Propel rolled out the recommended weekly budget to over 1 million users.

This year, we wanted to test how we could help Fresh EBT users stretch their benefits even further. In analyzing Propel’s data, we found that Fresh EBT users go food shopping 14 times per month on average, and that 26% of their transactions are under $6.

SNAP participants are likely purchasing food from smaller, local retailers at a premium, rather than grouping their food purchases into several larger, less frequent trips, which would save them money. We decided to test how we could help Fresh EBT users better plan their shopping to save money.

Behavioral Diagnosis and Key Insights

Building on our previous work with Propel, we analyzed the spending patterns of over one million users in their database – how often they go shopping and on which days – and conducted over a dozen qualitative interviews with SNAP recipients. In addition, we ran several online surveys with hundreds of participants to optimize the language of the new app feature.

Our analysis of spending patterns, as well as the online survey, led to the following insights:

  1. SNAP participants may be overspending due to insufficient planning. People may be going to the corner store at the last minute because they are unable to plan their grocery trips ahead of We decided to focus on helping SNAP participants save money by helping them plan their trips.
  2. Users don’t have a strongly preferred day of the week for grocery They are equally likely to shop on each day of the week. This indicates that we could anchor them to a specific day.
  3. Users tend to check the app fairly The FreshEBT app would be an effective place for our intervention.

To help FreshEBT users better plan their grocery trips, we removed barriers in two ways:

  1. We allocated a specific day for grocery shopping (Wednesday).
  2. We sent a shopping reminder the day before about their upcoming grocery trip.

We further amplified the benefit of potential savings by giving FreshEBT users a compelling reason to shop on Wednesday: it is the first day of the weekly promotion cycle in some supermarkets, so the highest number of discounts would be available on that day.

Therefore, we used the behavioral principles of reminders and planning, paired with building a habit over time through consistency (a reminder to go shopping every week) and a benefit that is salient to the user (first day of the promotion cycle).


We tested the effectiveness of reminders through a two-condition experiment. First, we chose Food Lion as the target retailer for our experiment because all Food Lion stores have a consistent promotion cycle starting on Wednesday.

We then randomly assigned 20,000 FreshEBT users who had shopped at Food Lion in the last month to one of two conditions. Those in the experimental condition first saw the opt-in message (below, left) asking them if they’d like to receive reminders. Those who opted in then received a push notification (below, right) every Tuesday reminding them to go grocery shopping. The notification included a link to the Food Lion circular to further encourage FreshEBT users to plan their shopping trip in advance. Those assigned to the control condition did not see the opt-in message nor did they receive any reminders.

Change in eating out expenditures by conditions


The experiment launched in late September 2017 and will run until January 2018. So far, 16.5% of FreshEBT users in the experimental condition opted in to receive reminders. To evaluate the effectiveness of our intervention, we plan to compare all FreshEBT users in the experimental group to control participants, on the following measures:

  1. Adherence to shopping on Wednesday: We predict that those who opted in to receive reminders will be more likely to go shopping at Food Lion on
  2. Percent of purchases under $6: Those who opted in should be able to plan their shopping trips better and should have a lower percentage of small purchases.