Friday, September 21

Imagining Futures: Social Media For Groceries

Every weekend, my wife sets time aside to fill our grocery list. We used to go together, but our schedules have made this almost impossible and our new shopping system a little less spontaneous.

I cook four nights a week. She cooks three. So my list is written up nice and tight, while she still likes to search for coupons and buy a few spontaneous treats or plan a meal depending on what she sees.

Mostly, she alternates between two stores, Albertsons and Smith's. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, sometimes depending on sales and the day of the week. Price, quality, produce diversity, butcher diversity, and name brands in stock all make a difference on who wins for the week.

Recently, I've noticed another factor that might contribute to how we shop. Both stores are starting to promote apps to make things easier. It's sounds great, but let's be honest. Despite being electronic coupon books, the current apps don't really do enough.

Grocers have to stop thinking mobile and start thinking physical. Specifically, apps cannot be modeled after what exists. They have to be modeled to promote customer objectives. I know it will likely make shelf renters cringe over the loss of impulse buying, but groceries are prime social business candidates.

Many grocery stores are going mobile, but not nearly enough. 

For starters, both of them want you to enroll and provide your email address. You know why. Customers come last. These apps aren't about you. They are about the store and adding you to an email list. Good grief. Isn't it sufficient that I wanted to shop at the store enough to download an app? Never mind. Let's move on...


Abertsons. The app is unattractive and not very intuitive from the start, but that's not the trouble. Other than e-coupons and a store locator, there isn't anything surprising or inspired. Let's point out one flaw.

For example, one of the marketing points is to make your shopping list using the app, but that lacks a tangible physical connection. Since it isn't tapped into the store inventory, you can add items you will never find in the store. It doesn't sync your list against its own e-coupons. And it doesn't organize the list by store layout (or even department), which means a lot of wasted time.

So other than advertising and maybe six e-coupons, why do I need this app? The first generation app is mostly useless, but at least I could try a few things before signing up for an account and spam.

Smith's. It's a better looking app that not only works for Smith's, but all Kroger grocery store brands too. Good enough, but then what? The weekly ads and e-coupons are nice enough, but each one wants you to sign in to add them to the shopping list.

So I did. It's much more intrusive than Albertsons, but I played along and added my Shopper Rewards number. My registration failed, it said, because my number is already in use. Right. By me.

I skipped that step and then had to confirm my email. Do they know how frustrating it is to leave an app to do that? I went to my desktop to save a step only to find that the confirmation hadn't even arrived. I double checked it and resent it from the app. Nothing (not even in my spam folder).

There is nothing like technology to remind you how fragile brands can be. That's as far as I got.

How to reinvent a grocery store app that works for the customer. 

First things first. Scrap the accounts on the front end. You can entice me later with things that make sense — special account-only offers and recipes that I don't have at home — but let people shop in the meantime.

The first thing people want and need is a store locator, which both apps are already equipped with (so that's easy). But after the store is located, the app ought to adjust to a physical layout of the store.

Then, when I start to add items to my list, the app ought to check approximate store inventory, apply any e-discounts and coupons, and arrange the list using a geographical layout of the store. That way you are sure that all your dairy items are picked up in the dairy section.

The app ought to allow for branded and non-branded items. Consumers have different tolerances for different items. Sometimes not having Comet in stock can be a deal breaker. Sometimes it just matters what napkins are on sale. Flexibility is the key and helpfulness raises the bar — e.g., maybe you can segment and merge lists based on regular purchases like milk, eggs, and bread to help people skip retyping everything. All this would not only make sense, but also merge the high tech and high touch.

Want to go a step further? Some grocery stores allow orders and pick- ups anyway. So it only makes sense to have the 'option' to send the list in advance of a shopping trip (along with any special butcher cuts and deli meats). The customer can choose whether they want to do more shopping in the store (while only their special items like meat and deli are prepped) or have everything bagged (assuming you are specific) in advance for a nominal fee of $5.

If $5 sounds too light, you have to think long term. As long as it's done right, people will have a hard time giving back the hour or two they saved. If you want to go a step further, add $20 for delivery.

All of it delivers on the brand promise that both groceries are missing right now. Grocery apps are great but they need to marry the in-store and out-of-store experience. At the same time, it would win over customer loyalty and reduce wait times because the app might already have your debit card info for the express self-checkout or (perhaps) already be factored in by the assembly team before hand.
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