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Wegmans and what it will take to make grocery mobile apps matter

March 5, 2013

Tom Ryan is managing editor of RetailWire

Tom Ryan is managing editor of RetailWire

By Tom Ryan

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 applications.

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 of the Wegmans app are:

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 the 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 that benefits can accrue to the shopper’s loyalty card.

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.

Super marketing
In a recent RetailWire online discussion, expert panelists were asked to predict how common grocery store apps will be in coming years.

“There’s an adoption curve that will take a certain amount of time to reach fruition, no matter what a supermarket does,” wrote Ken Lonyai, digital innovation strategist and cofounder of ScreenPlay InterActive.

“It’s likely longer than other areas of retail due to demographics and the more utilitarian nature of food shopping vs. say, fashion shopping,” he said.

Frank Riso, Sr., director and global leader for retail industry at Motorola Solutions, sees a potential “killer app” in easing coupon redemption for consumers.

“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,” Mr. Riso commented.

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

Other features that rank high in the survey as far as importance for mobile grocery shopping are:

• 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.

Also responding in the RetailWire discussion, Lisa Bradner, chief strategy officer of Geomentum/Shopper Sciences, pointed out the challenge of using a price comparison feature.

“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 … Seems to me to be an opportunity for Google or another wider market player to step in,” Ms. Bradner said.

For a variety of reasons, creating strong, relevant apps for in-store grocery shoppers is a logistical challenge, wrote Paula Rosenblum, a managing partner at RSR Research.

“Requesting that a product be stocked becomes another version of ‘squeaky wheel syndrome,’” she said.

“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.”

DESPITE THE SKEPTICISM, many cannot help but see opportunities in grocery store apps as long as it eases, rather than complicates, the shopping experience.

“It would be interesting to see a food retailer really prepared to think outside the box of convenience,” said retail consultant Dick Seesel.

“For example, how about entering your grocery list from the store Web site or mobile app, scanning your bar code 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.”

Tom Ryan is managing editor of RetailWire, New York. Reach him at

The Wegmans app demo:

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