Are Grocery Store Mobile Applications Increasing Store Loyalty?

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There are many mobile device applications available for entertainment, news, travel or social communications.  With the advent of grocery store mobile applications coming on the scene several years ago, more shoppers are discovering and converting to a more streamlined process of grocery savings. However, when it comes to saving money at grocery stores, the majority of people are only using “loyalty” cards to take advantage of shopping specials.  For the majority of serious shoppers to get deeper discounts, they also use paper coupons that most stores will double under a dollar.  Because mobile in-store savings is still a fairly new system, there are many gaps in lagging grocery store mobile technology adoption by stores and shoppers.

The scope of this research proposal is for businesses to better understand how mobile technology is affecting the grocery store industry. There are many resources and articles addressing small pockets of information on this topic, but this will collectively present background information on which grocery retailers pioneered and capitalize on mobile apps, current customer growth and potential, as well as where experts see the industry heading in the near future.

The survey portion is based on a series of research recommendations designed to further benefit grocers’ knowledge in an effort to determine how mobile applications are affecting consumer loyalty. The proposal includes various methods of customer research to include utilizing available loyalty card customer available data.

For the purpose of the research, we will focus on  top  grocery store chains.  Kroger’s and Giant were the earliest mobile adopters in 2011; and Safeway began smartphone capabilities in 2013 and considered one of the best based on ease of use, savings and free product offers. Consumer Reports (2014) lists the top U.S. revenue producing grocers as Kroger #1, Safeway #2, and Giant at #7.  We will also study the mobile strategy of Trader Joe’s listed as #2 most popular grocery store, as well as different features of other mobile grocery store applications.

Let’s first take a look at the short history of grocery store mobile apps and how social media and industry leaders address this relatively new shopping trend. According to Patel (2012), “Food and medicine see the least smartphone usage for research and shopping, based on an online survey from Omnicom Media Group and Microsoft. However, 65% of the 3,500 shoppers in five global markets prioritized wanting their cell phones to find in-store promotions, make shopping lists and find items in stores.”

The Fiscal Times (Braverman, 2014) discussed how technological advances and evolving expectations are altering the shopping experience. “The post-recession consumer is still spending carefully and looking for ways to stretch his dollar, with 51 percent of consumers using coupons more often. To draw more shoppers into using mobile applications, Safeway’s ‘Just for U’ offers customers special discounts only through their mobile app.  To make the mobile experience even juicier, they usually offer at least one different free product each week to mobile customers.”  In an industry that already operates on razor-thin margins, grocery stores are always desperate to find ways to retain customers and make grocery shopping as relevant and convenient as possible. “Giant was one of the first chains to offer a mobile app in 2011 and now has extended features to let customers access and monitor gas rewards, A+ School Rewards, as well as receive personalized savings.” (Elizabeth, 2014)

To be expected, the top demographic using mobile grocery technologies are mothers; and big data is in attempt keep customers shopping elsewhere.

(Elizabeth, 2014) “Market research from The NPD Group in its National Eating Trends report reveals that more than 25 million Americans use coupon apps each month and these customers are usually in households with children. The mobile revolution also offers new opportunities for grocery stores to collect and track consumer data in ways previously unheard of because mobile apps are linked to loyalty cards to make the mobile shopping experience both personalized and relevant.”

In exploring the #1 money-making grocery chain–a report from Placed finds that during November 2013, Kroger’s was visited by more smartphone-owning moms than any other grocery chain.

With moms increasingly enlisting their mobile devices to help plan meals and grocery lists, store and redeem coupons, as well as support their visits to stores, Kroger is leading other grocery stores in delivering services that meet this important segment’s needs to include filling prescriptions. “Kroger, Safeway and Aldi make up the largest grocery stores in the United States based on foot traffic, so it isn’t a surprise that rank carries over for moms,” said David Shim, CEO/founder of Placed, Seattle. “These most trafficked grocers are investing in mobile, with four-star apps on Android and iOS, which is simplifying and improving the shopping experience. The Kroger app has consistently been one of the top five most downloaded apps in the Apple Store.” (Johnson, 2014)

According to Grossman (2012), most supermarkets now reward shoppers with discounts on gas based on spending.  Grocery chains that take their mobile apps seriously are attempting to reinvent the grocery shopping experience as opposed to being a time-sucking errand.

The popular Trader Joe’s has a completely different strategy because they don’t generally feature sales or specials. Grossman (2012) explains, “Trader Joe’s significantly under index for moms who responded by being 26 percent less likely to visit Trader Joe’s than the typical consumer. Part of the reason Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods may not appeal to moms is because neither grocery has a branded, stand-alone savings app.

The one area where many grocery stores are lagging is in eliminating the need for consumers to bring in manufacturer paper coupons but there are a few coupon apps that can be used in concert with grocery store loyalty cards. Consumer Reports (2013) says different apps offer coupons at different stores, so your success using your smart phone to get coupons depends on the supermarket. Apps aren’t all about digital deals and sometimes point you to online or newspaper coupons you have to print.”

(Patel, 2012) Coupons.com is a behemoth in digital coupons that’s raised $285 million in funding over the past several years. It also focuses on bringing brands into the list-making process with an app called Grocery iQ. Shoppers create lists by scanning barcodes or typing in entries, then the app organizes those items by aisle. The list syncs with store loyalty cards and savings are redeemed with a swipe of the card. Grocery iQ has “millions” of downloads and active users use it three to four times a week. The app “Saving Star” gives shoppers actual money sent to bank accounts, PayPal, Amazon gift card, or donation to conservation group American Forests. The app generally has about 30 deals available at any time and works with lots of grocery chains.

Personalization and exclusivity are among the most important features for customers using grocery store mobile applications. The Food Marketing Institute (2013) developed a study under the Gerald E. Peck Fellowship with Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, outlining opportunities for food retailers to capitalize on consumer behavior related to mobile apps. “The study determined that the best retailer app must engage the consumer and encourage feedback; thus creating a two-way conversation,” said Professor of Food Marketing Nancy Childs, Ph.D. “By integrating, sharing, creating, reviewing, and suggesting–food retailers can drive sales’ opportunities and foster positive relationships with their customers through mobile technology.” According to the research, grocery apps that provide exclusive discounts to app users; the ability to track loyalty points and incentive programs; and proactive identification of coupons and sale offers are the most important grocery app functions for shoppers in the next 18 months. The Peck Research Panel of industry experts emphasized that performance issues of most concern in the future are excessive surveys and inquiries generated by the app and cumbersome navigation.

According to FMI’s 2013 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends data, 65 percent of shoppers are interested in receiving information on weekly sales through their mobile app and 72 percent of shoppers are connected to their retail establishment through social media. Childs emphasized, “This potential for consumers to access information, savings and convenience through a mobile app enables a dramatic transformation in the retail industry.”

With more shoppers reaching for their smartphones to take advantage of exclusive mobile offers, the devices serve as a crucial component of multichannel marketing.  According to Pew Research, 55% of American adults own a smartphone as of January 2014 and that figure is expected to rise considerably. (Mercatus.com, 2014) Information Age reported that a recent survey by On Device Research found 74 percent of shoppers are receptive to promotions they received on their phones while in the store.

(Mercatus, 2014) Grocers can send real-time messages by identifying smartphones based on their location or in-store connection to Wi-Fi. Particularly with apps that are integrated into loyalty cards, grocers can collect valuable information about shoppers’ preferences, habits, and purchase histories. Information Age emphasized that these personalized approaches are crucial and grocers need to be able to deliver the right messages at just the right time to optimize their conversion rates.  Although merchants need to be careful not to make shoppers feel like their privacy is violated, most consumers appreciate promotions and deals that accurately reflect their needs and preferences. Countless articles have been written about the great promise that mobile holds to capture and unlock customers’ data–location, social situation, tasks to be completed–all in real time during the shopping trip. I suggest we spend more time solving real business and customer problems; and focus on creating better mobile experiences, not simply more apps.

In getting back to Trader Joe’s, they decided to focus on social media this year by introducing its first attempt at a branded app only available with Apple.  (Johnson, 2014) In lieu of coupons or hard offers, the new app tightly integrates with Facebook as a way for consumers to discover more than 3,000 privately-labeled grocery items.  “Trader Joe’s house brands stand out – they’re unique and tasty, and a reason many people choose to shop there,” said Robbie Allan, vice president of marketing and sales at Carnival Mobile, New York. “Trader Joe’s app is all about surfacing these products and describing nutritional value that can be set up to automatically publish on a user’s Facebook account by turning on an option in the settings. “[For Trader Joe’s], less is more,” said Marc Parrish, advisor at Appboy, New York. “They carry only 2,000 products, 80 percent of which are Trader Joe’s brands and they sell twice as much per square foot than other supermarkets.”

There are other grocery store mobile apps that cater to other needs besides saving money. Aisle411 finds products through in-store aisle location or can route your entire shopping list on a mobile map and works in hundreds of stores around the country.

(Grossman, 2012). Modiv’s “Scan it!” hand-held in-store scanners and mobile app enables shoppers to scan bar codes and ring up purchases as they stroll through supermarket aisles. Kroger’s introduced a system called QueVision which counts the number of people entering and leaving the store using heat-sensitive infrared sensors. According to Supermarket News, “The system also features infrared sensors above the checkout lanes that can detect average wait time.” Wegman’s app scans a barcode product to add it to your shopping list and also features recipes with the ability to add the ingredients directly to your list. Weis Markets app lets you view the weekly circular, and create and email a list to someone else. The Android version lets shoppers use their voice to add items to the list. The Harris Teeter mobile app adds GPS technology and driving directions; shoppers can view shopping lists offline and integrate them with their desktop lists; and provides text message ability to pre-order deli items.

Let’s now take a look into what industry and social media experts see on the horizon for future grocery store mobile technology. The global mobile wallet market is expected to reach $2,950.2 billion by 2020, according to a new study by Grand View Research, Inc.  Grocery store mobile technology tops the list in the retail sector positively impacting market growth over the forecast period. (Parmar, 2014)

By taking a human-centric and insight-driven design approach—grocers can help to solve everyday customer pet peeves, such as 15% of customers who say their groceries are packed incorrectly. Another frustration is long lines. Data shows that 70% of shoppers with a grocery app go through the weekly offers right before visiting a store. What if the app told people current line check out wait times for optimal shopping before leaving the house? (Mast, 2014)

Wegmans will be adding a feature to its app in the near future that will give shoppers checkout cost estimates/savings, to include scanning barcodes at home of items you plan to purchase. (Elizabeth, 2014)

Survey and Research Method 

The following is a proposed research method for measuring the effectiveness of a grocery store’s mobile technology in relation to customer participation and satisfaction. This method is primarily intended to assess the efficiency of grocers engaged in a current program. Grocers who do not have a mobile program can refer to the scope and research previously discussed to determine what might work best for their operations; and follow up with some of the research methods provided below.

Shopper Data Analysis: For a multichannel approach, grocers can use retail technology that consolidates data from a variety of platforms, including loyalty card transactions, mobile usage and in-store transactions. This readily available data can be analyzed by running a variety of pertinent reports to be used for making better business decisions. For example, grocers can identify items that shoppers are likely to purchase based on cyclical patterns (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Super Bowl, etc.) to optimize store displays, product availability and special pricing. Those businesses with loyalty card programs are already ahead of the game in comparison to retailers that don’t have this valuable data.  Extremely integral statistics can be formatted in detailed reports grouping individual customer shopping habits by frequency, products, and actual spending.  This is coupled with demographic data such as addresses, phone numbers, gender and age that customers provide when signing up for the cards. For companies with loyalty cards, providing mobile technology sweetens the pot by increasing the possibility of cornering clients by peppering the shopping experience with individually selected items based on shopping history.  The mobile data can close gaps with loyalty card reports by tracking the interactivity of the customer on what specials they are browsing and selecting.  Most mobile apps do not afford an easy process of telling your grocer about products suggested to include in specials, which is explored further in customer surveys. The one type of data that is not available is by customers that don’t use loyalty cards; which automatically disqualifies them for mobile apps. This is one of the critical “lack-of-data” areas that need attention with solutions addressed below.

Competitor Quarterly and Annual Report Analysis: One way to find out how your store is fairing in comparison to the competition is through publically provided quarterly and annual reports.  All financial breakdowns are available with most companies including detailed factual depictions of what is contributing to increasing or decreasing sales.  These figures are provided for current or prospective shareholders.

Customer Survey for those actively using mobile application: This is the group that is going to give you the best insight on how to make your mobile technology even better.  Chances are they are also using competitor programs so they possess the qualitative knowledge you need to take your program to the next level.  The first method that can be employed is by customer spot checks.  Train your check-out personnel to ask customers who use the mobile app to give them some general feedback on how they like the technology; in particular, what they recommend to make it better.  Program certain keys/codes for the sales staff at the register that they can enter that would address some of the common complaints such as: not enough preferred product specials available, not enough overall savings, app is too complicated; specials don’t change often; or some other complaint.  Codes can also be developed that would include good overall comments, but the key to progressing your program is focusing on ways for improvement.  When customers share info, clerks can respond, “Thanks for your feedback.  The next time you shop you will have $5 automatically deducted from your total because we value you as a customer.” To ensure clerks don’t ask the same customer to repeat feedback, an alert should be available in the future visits that they have already provided feedback.

Needless to say, online customer surveys should be employed once a year and to get the best results—an incentive needs to be offered as a reward.  A list of free items should be available to choose from around $3-$4 that they can click at the end of the survey and will be automatically added to their loyalty card. The questions should include primarily qualitative data and the survey doesn’t have to be too lengthy such as: What do you like best about the mobile app? What do you like least? What features would you like to see in the future? You can also use this survey to ask general questions about the store and the overall shopping experience so they have an opportunity to make comments on anything they feel would improve their experience and expectations.

Customer Survey for non-mobile users: Again, qualitative data is needed as to why these customers aren’t using the app.  Loyalty card data will be available for these members and the survey should focus on what can what they would like to see from the grocer to provide better products with more savings. Questions can range from multiple choice answers to written comments in an effort to zero in on what is holding them back from getting the app.  Questions should include if they own a smartphone, but the primary focus is simply why they aren’t engaging the app: Do you think it would be too complicated to use? Not interested? Someone told them it wasn’t worth it? Didn’t know an app was available?  Needless to say, offering an incentive to answer should be rendered as well.

In Person, In Store (IPIS) survey: Most grocers have data on customers from loyalty cards but a fairly easy way to build customer relationships while retrieving valuable feedback is to run a one-day to a week-long in store campaign to get to know your customers.  This can be administered depending upon staff availability and how much you are willing to spend on the promotion. Two to three staff members (preferably managers or senior clerks) can set up conversation areas in the store where they can conduct quantitative and qualitative surveys of random shoppers.  Those participating should receive several gift choices with an approximate $5-10 value. These gifts should be displayed close by to attract attention. Very few people would not be interested in receiving a free gift. The questions should center on knowledge you otherwise wouldn’t know such as other store shopping habits.  What store do you shop at most and why? What feature is most important to you when shopping? What are some of the things you like best about this store? How often do they shop there? What are the things you like least? Do they use the mobile? Why or why not? Make sure you ask for a general comment at the end of the discussion, just in case they have something to say not covered. During these discussions that should last no more than 5 minutes to give as many customers a chance to render feedback—it’s a good time to extend some hospitality such as cookies, bag of chips/pretzels with a beverage. Equip each employee conducting the IPIS survey with a laptop to streamline the data results. Afterwards, gather all personnel together to share some highlights and afford them an opportunity to render feedback, ask questions as well. The research methods recommended are just scratching the surface on some methods a grocer can go about assessing predictive behavioral analytics into future shopping habits that can  better help to understand what guests think to build marketing strategies accordingly.

References

Braverman, B. (Jan. 1, 2014). 10 trends changing how you’ll shop in 2014. Fiscal Times.

Consumerreports.com. (n.a.) (August 2013). Best coupon apps for grocery shopping: You don’t have to be a coupon-clipping maven to save big. Retrieved from http://consumerreports.org/cro/2013/08/best-coupon-apps/index.htm

Elizabeth, A. (Aug. 4, 2014). Grocery Stores Use Mobile to Stay Fresh: How Major Chains Are Leveraging Apps. Retrieved from http://www.instant.ly/blog/2013/01/grocery-stores-use-mobile-to-stay-fresh/

FMI.org (n.a.) (Oct. 9, 2013). Digital Grocery Commerce: FMI Research Explores the Potential for Grocery Shopping Apps. Retrieved from http://www.fmi.org/news-room/latest-news/view/2013/10/09/digital-grocery-commerce-fmi-research-explores-the-potential-for-grocery-shopping-apps

Grossman, J. (July 17, 2012). 9 Ways Supermarkets Are Going High Tech. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/07/17/supermarket-technology-marketing/

Johnson, L. (Jan. 10, 2014). Kroger’s mobile strategy stands out with focus on loyalty, personalized coupons. Retrieved from http://www.mobilecommercedaily.com/kroger%E2%80%99s-mobile-strategy-stands-out-with-focus-on-loyalty-personalized-coupons

Mast, S. (July 8, 2014). Are Grocery Store Apps the Answer to Better Customer Service? 

Mercatus.com (May 2, 2014). Engage Grocery Shoppers with Mobile apps. Retrieved from http://www.mercatustechnologies.com/engage-grocery-shoppers-mobile-apps/

Parmar, H. (Sept. 18, 2014) Global Mobile Wallet Market By Application (Grocery Stores, Public Transportation, Restaurants, Retail, Vending Machines) Expected To Reach  $2,950 billion by 2020. Retrieved  from https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140918080217-217639293-global-mobile-wallet-market-by-application-grocery-stores-public-transportation-restaurants-retail-vending-machines-expected-to-reach-usd-2-950

Patel, K. (May 21, 2012). Are Consumers Ready for Mobile Grocery Shopping? Retrieved from http://adage.com/article/digital/consumers-ready-mobile-grocery-shopping/234862/

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