What Will It Take to Make Grocery Mobile Apps Matter?   

By Tom Ryan, RetailWire

According to the holiday shopping survey from distribution software-provider Symphony EYC (formerly Aldata), only 5.6 percent of respondents used their mobile phone to actually buy groceries during the past 12 months. Yet supermarkets continue to launch and tweak their mobile apps.

The just-released mobile app upgrade from Wegmans promises to help more quickly build virtual shopping lists while also helping save money and time.

Among the new features:

  • Past purchases: Through Shoppers Club accounts, past purchases can now be seen, perhaps helping with forgotten shopping list items;
  • Bar code scanner: The mobile device's camera can scan product bar codes right from the pantry or refrigerator and quickly add them to a list;
  • Multiple shopping lists: Separate lists can be created and edited for an upcoming party or when shopping for others. The list can also be emailed to others with notes;
  • Quick recipe access: The app displays recipes from Wegmans Menu magazine with ingredients, instructions, and nutrition information for each. Ingredients can be added to the shopping list with a single tap;
  • Aisle navigation: Shopping lists are organized by aisle according to your store's layout to help avoid backtracking;
  • Cost calculator: The total cost of items on a list is now estimated to help shoppers stay on budget;
  • Shoppers Club access: Cashiers can scan the phone or tablet to capture Shoppers Club information so benefits can acrue to the shopper's loyalty card.

Other original features built into the app include checking store locations and hours, refilling prescriptions, watching cooking videos, reading the latest posts from Wegmans' Fresh Stories blog, browsing recipes, rating and reviewing products and recipes, and checking nutrition information and Wellness Keys for Wegmans brand products and recipes.

Other supermarket apps in the marketplace enable shoppers to scan and self-checkout in aisles, see the store's weekly circular, download coupons, gain meal planning and cooking tips, and track loyalty card points.

At least according to the Symphony EYC survey of 1,000 shoppers, supermarket apps are missing what shoppers wanted most: being able to compare prices with other stores.

Others features ranking high in the survey as far as importance for mobile grocery shopping:

  • Gaining access to coupons or promotions;
  • Receiving personalized offers;
  • Collecting and using loyalty points;
  • Locating specific and complementary products in store, and;
  • Requesting that a product not currently available with that retailer be stocked.

Discussion Questions:
Will in-store grocery shopping with mobile apps be fairly common in the years ahead? Which features of Wegmans mobile app will prove particularly beneficial to in-store shopping? What features may be missing?    

Comments from the RetailWire BrainTrust:

Apps are valuable when they save time, save money and make the shopping experience easier. The ideal grocery app needs to easily merge recipes from any source into a shopping list, automatically grab manufacturer coupons and apply them to purchases, help customers locate products in-store, update and redeem loyalty points/rewards, and quickly
check out.

To date, grocers have not been able to produce the ideal app, but we are headed in that direction. Given a few more years we'll get there.
Max Goldberg, Founding Partner, The Radical Clarity Group

For a variety of reasons, creating strong, relevant apps for in-store grocery shoppers is a logistical challenge:
  • Store specific assortments make serving up relevant promotions and complimentary sometimes challenging. It's often not clear what product is in what store.
  • Planogram accuracy is mostly inadequate for in-aisle promotions and information.
  • Requesting that a product be stocked becomes another version of "squeaky wheel syndrome." Supermarkets are all about turn, and just because I like something, doesn't mean it's viable for the store to sell. That can make it seem like I was asked a question and my answer was ignored. Better not to ask in the first place.

It'll happen eventually...just not to the level most customers might imagine. Me, I'd be happy if my local Publix just stopped re-stocking during the busiest time of the day. All those dollies really do get in the way.
Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

A mobile app that serves as a substitute for scanning a loyalty card (or entering one's phone number at the checkout lane) is a convenience but not a game-changer. And, as the panel discussed last week, offering discounts through new technology is not really a driver of loyalty anyway.

It would be interesting to see a food retailer really prepared to think outside the box of convenience: For example, how about entering your grocery list from the store website or mobile app, scanning your barcode upon arriving at the store and finding your order ready for pickup? This would take work to execute in a cost-effective way but might help redefine loyalty.
Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

So much of this is the curve—that is, there's an adoption curve that will take a certain amount of time to reach fruition, no matter what a supermarket does. It's likely longer than other areas of retail due to demographics and the more utilitarian nature of food shopping vs. say, fashion shopping. Newspapers weren't immediately affected by the Internet, but after 5-10 years of the general public being online, the effect set-in. Given enough time for old habits to die and generational shifts to keep evolving and the idea of an app/digital assistant to help shoppers will become the norm.
Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

The more that the app relates to the end-to-end process of eating, the more it will become common.

BigOven is a sample of an end-to-end, cloud-based app that goes backward from the recipe to the grocery list. It also
does what all future apps will do—links together all of the tech platforms that a person (shopper) uses—tablet, PC, and phones(s).

Life is end-to-end and the best apps are too!
Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

As soon as a grocer moves their loyalty card over to the mobile app and then allows a customer to select coupons from the Sunday FSI by entering a code, then the use of the mobile device should show signs of life in the store. Then give the customer the opportunity to check inventory status or to ask for help from their phone while in the store and route the request to either staff or a manager on their mobile device.

The next generation uses texting, so why not get the store ready for that too? Lastly, add games to the shopping trip. If a customer sees a spill and reports it on their mobile device, they get points. Let all grocers take Feargal Quinn's approach to knowing thy customer.
Frank Riso, Sr. Director, Global Leader, Retail Industry, Motorola Solutions, Inc.

I think we'll get there. It's taken a couple of iterations to get mobile right when the retailer has a sophisticated online presence, so I have to imagine that the learning curve is even steeper in grocery, where "sophisticated" is almost never used to describe "online."

I have to say that I have come to realize, through acquisition and testing of multiple apps, that a shopping list app is surprisingly complex. And grocery retailers won't necessarily be able to learn from the best practices of other retailers that have cracked their own mobile code—the shopping process for groceries is significantly different than that for say, apparel. The apps should reflect that.
Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Absolutely. In my research comparing mature Millennials versus mature Baby Boomers, I noted a significant difference in mobile app attitudes and behaviors. Not surprisingly, the younger generation uses apps more for buying products and getting coupons, as well as for gathering information on products, services, and the retailer itself.

A review of the Symphony research leads one to conclude that these apps need to be more than discount vehicles. Consumers are looking for enhanced shopping convenience and connectivity. A needed feature is the ability to provide feedback (complain or compliment) via the mobile app. Such a feature addresses both the need for convenience and the need for connectivity.
Richard J. George, Ph.D., Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University

I'm interested that the number 1 thing shoppers want is the ability to compare prices: apps are walled gardens and since grocery loyalty is generally a bit of a fiction (location of store is the biggest "loyalty" driver) having to go to a different app for each store you shop seems counter-intuitive to what shoppers want and what FSIs have allowed them to do for years-find out who has the best price on what.

Seems to me to be an opportunity for Google or another wider market player to step in. Shoppers want aggregation and one stop solutions—not a series of 20 apps on their phones all related to grocery shopping
Lisa Bradner, Chief Strategy Officer, Geomentum/Shopper Sciences

The grocery shopping experience for many is a repetitive process at a defined set of stores. Most even buy the same SKUs on each trip and have memorized where these items are located in their set of stores. With that being the norm, mere shopping lists and store and product locators are not going to move the needle on shopper use of the application as they do not significantly improve upon the shopper's already streamlined regiment.

However, when NFC technologies and other real time connectivity is possible within the stores themselves, an application can then provide directed coupons savings to shoppers to a specific store and even in a specific aisle. Taking the application all the way to full utility, competing the purchase on the app and avoiding or expediting the checkout line is nirvana.

Pricing comparing across retailers will remain problematic. Most retailers have no desire to facilitate cross shopping or potentially highlighting a pricing disadvantage.

Anytime technology reduces time, simplifies the process, and/or adds incremental savings, the technology has a great chance of gaining traction. So far, many of these apps fail to meet these criteria.
Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

I agree with Mark Heckman (as I usually do) about the routine nature of grocery shopping, but let me put another spin on it: the fact that mobile apps are (and always will be) generally ineffective for grocery shoppers is a *good* thing. That means that customers are familiar with the store and comfortable handling any problem-solving tasks on their own, without relying on expensive technology. All retailers should aspire to get their customers to that level of comfort and familiarity.

In short, mobile apps are a solution to a non-problem for most grocery shoppers.
Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School of the Univ. of Pennsylvania

Again this is not a one size fits all. The best app will depend on the individuals shopping behavior. For example, my husband does the shopping in our house and I never know when he will be stopping by a store. He likes to be spontaneous. We use a great app that allows me to put items on the shopping list for each of his favorite stores that then syncs to his app. When he arrives at the store, he can look and see what I may be out of or want from that store.

We've never been much into coupon use, however with the app, he can also see if there is a coupon for any of the items on the list. That's all we really need or want.
Lee Kent, Chief Retail Authority, Targeted Technology Solutions

I finally went with a friend to try out the Stop & Shop handhelds the other night. During NRF, I spoke with one of the vendors involved with the Stop & Shop project and finally realized that the thing that really made it work was the advent of reusable shopping bags. Allowing the customer to scan and bag as they shopped seemed the perfect answer. My friend is a real efficiency freak and in her 40 years of grocery shopping has always been annoyed by the number of times she had to handle grocery items between the shelf in the store and the shelf at home. We both had high hopes for the experience.

With all the anticipation, we were disappointed with the experience. The handhelds were really "dumb" terminals. For customers used to their smart phones, the handheld seemed both clunky and stupid. Since we were in a new store, we needed help finding things but the terminal could not do that. We did get a lot of discount offers, but they were not always synced with our current location in the store.
Bill Bittner, Principal, BWH Consulting

What's hot? Geo-fenced apps, like the ones that Macy's and Walmart offer, will usher in the next wave of features. In-aisle messaging and promotions will prompt impulse purchasing, at least to the extent that retailers won't want to miss those opportunities.

But beyond this, the killer app will include payment on the same device as the list and scan. With Google Wallet and Isis, we are nearly there. The payments of the future will include accounts for both fiat currency and shopper points. Combined with personalized promotions, this kind of comprehensive shop-n-pay app will be such a useful tool to sellers, that we are bound to see them pervade the market.
Liz Crawford, VP, Strategy & Insights, Marketing Drive

Read the entire story and RetailWire discussion at: http://www.retailwire.com/discussion/16543/

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                                                                         Early February 2013