Sending reminders to help people save money while shopping for groceries

In-app message
Experiment Type
Field Experiment
Spend less
Reduce expenses
Focus Areas
Marketing & messaging
Behavioral Concepts
Scarcity Anchoring
Partner Type

What Happened

It didn't work. We did not see any differences in the percentages of small purchases made with SNAP benefits.

Lessons Learned

This in-app reminder likely was not strong enough to significantly change the way SNAP recipients use their benefits.


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.

What’s more, SNAP participants tend to purchase food from smaller, local retailers rather than grouping their food purchases into several larger, less frequent trips, which would save them money. We have found previously that SNAP recipients go food shopping 14 times per month on average, and that 26% of their transactions are under $6.

We continued our partnership with Propel, a fintech company that makes a mobile app called Fresh EBT. Fresh EBT allows SNAP participants to easily check their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card balance and transaction history. Last year, we wanted to test whether we could help SNAP recipients stretch their benefits by using reminders to anchor them on a specific day to go shopping for groceries.

Key Insights

This project with Propel began with an analysis of 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. This work led to insights that ultimately informed our experiment.

  • 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 time. We decided to focus on helping SNAP participants save money by helping them plan their trips.

  • Users don’t have a strongly preferred day of the week for grocery shopping. They are equally likely to shop on each day of the week. This indicates that we could anchor them to a specific day.


We hypothesized that sending reminders about upcoming deals and letting users know that they can take advantage of day-specific deals might encourage people to plan ahead. As a result, we hoped users might save money by making fewer, less frequent trips to the grocery store.

Together with Propel, we designed a “Fresh EBT Tip” displayed in the app that encouraged users to enroll for weekly reminders of upcoming shopping deals. About 17,600 users were randomly assigned to either receive the offer to enroll or not.


We did not see that, as a group, those who were offered a chance to receive the reminders spent their SNAP benefits any differently from the control group – both had the same percentage of small purchases and both tended to spread their shopping out across the week.

Of the 8,856 in the treatment group, about 20% opted-in for reminders and an even smaller group actually opened the reminder that was sent. However, we did find that this group of people who opted to receive reminders and who opened the first reminder spent significantly more at Food Lion than the control group.

However, this could be that the people who opted to receive reminders are different than those who ignored the offer. When we looked at them over time, there were noticeable differences in their spending behavior in the past. We used a propensity score model to try to create a comparison group that most resembled the group of people who opted for reminders. Compared to this group, we saw that the reminders appeared to encourage people to shop at Food Lion on Wednesday, though the effect of the reminder was likely not as strong as it initially seemed.

Ultimately, though, we did not see any differences in the percentages of small purchases made with SNAP benefits. As a result, the reminder likely was not strong enough to significantly change the way SNAP recipients use their benefits.