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Mobile Apps: Providing Solutions Key To Greater Shopper Engagement


Last updated on July 21st, 2014 at 11:24 am

The growth of mobile apps in the food retail industry has been well documented, but recent research suggests that the key to generating consumer engagement with a store’s mobile app is to customize the functions to meet a store’s particular shoppers’ specific needs and interests.

by Ira Glass/President Amplify Marketing Communications Shelby Report contributor
by Ira Gleser/President
Amplify Marketing Communications
Shelby Report contributor

According to Nancy Childs, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, consumers are downloading apps from grocery chains but not really using them. Childs, who is studying grocery apps as the focus of her Peck Fellowship at Saint Joseph’s, presented a summary of her consumer research on mobile apps at the recent FMI Connect show in Chicago.

“Through this research, we’ve sought to determine what types of app features and functions would appeal to various consumers, and how to pursue the use of mobile apps in a more optimal way for the food retail industry,” said Childs. “Mobile apps are certainly gaining a lot of attention, but they are not reaching their potential and are not being used strategically.”

Childs notes there are several types of grocery shoppers, and they are using apps differently based on factors such as their digital savviness and how much time they plan on spending on a particular shopping trip. She described apps as “push instruments,” making information available to consumers but not really engaging the consumer.

Childs based her research on a detailed consumer survey of more than 600 grocery shoppers who have smartphones and are familiar with apps. She segmented these shoppers based on shopper profiles created by IRI Digitalink and was able to correlate certain app preferences with specific types of shoppers.

The largest shopper profile identified was the “Digitize Me” group, which represented nearly 50 percent of the total sample. This group of consumers spends more than 30 hours per week online and spends nearly $600 a year buying consumer packaged goods products online. They are very engaged and follow brands and retailers online. This group also can be characterized as “heavy shoppers,” with nearly half spending $250 or more each week on groceries.

“One interesting point to make about this group of grocery app users is they are less money sensitive, not as engaged with social media and are more interested in digitally provided solutions,” Childs noted. “These consumers are familiar with apps and are ready and willing to work with you online and integrate mobile apps into their preparation for their shopping trips and when they are in your stores.”

The research identified about 20 different mobile app functions that consumers have an interest in. The functions with the highest degree of interest among consumers fall into three primary buckets: convenience (e.g., help me make out my shopping list); economic (e.g., coupons, offers); and personalization (e.g., track my shopping history and loyalty points).

Childs suggests that the reason for the popularity of these functions is that consumers, for the most part, are still following their traditional, familiar shopping habits and seeking to migrate them online. However, there is little appetite for generic tasks, such as recipes you can find on the internet or accessing your store’s customer service department.

“What we’re seeing in this research is that, while your light shoppers are most interested in the basics, coupons and discounts, your heavy shoppers are ready for digital solutions, so customizing your app offerings based on the consumer you want to target is key,” said Childs.

“For example, if your mobile app can help a customer create a shopping list for ingredients in a recipe that they’ve identified, that’s offering a solution and that’s something they would be more interested in,” she explained.

Childs notes that one of the general findings from the study is that most consumers are unhappy with mobile apps, finding them to be too cumbersome and overwhelming, providing far too many functions to address multiple possibilities, vs. offering a sleeker number of functions that would appeal to them.

To help reinforce this point, Childs notes that offering only five functions would enable a retailer to engage nearly 60 percent of heavy shoppers: track shopping history; scan and checkout items while shopping; track retail loyalty points and incentive programs; identify coupons and special sales offers; and create a shopping list before going shopping.

Interestingly, when it comes to user concerns with grocery apps, the consumers that use them the most—digital-savvy shoppers—have the most concerns because they are experienced users. Some of the highest rated issues pertain to in-store personnel not being prepared at checkout. They are not as familiar with the app’s functionality as the shoppers are. Childs suggests the front end needs to catch up with the marketing efforts of the retailer to achieve an integrated, successful strategy.

Childs remains bullish on the opportunity that mobile apps presents to retailers, stating they are a viable means to engage customers and provide them with solutions that meet their needs. The key takeaway from the research is to take a “less is more” approach, by matching the functions of the retailer’s mobile app with the needs and wants of the target shopper group the retailer is pursuing.

“I would recommend to retailers that they take a thoughtful approach in developing their mobile app, be prepared at the store level, and put out a quality, efficient app that works,” she said.

In the feature photo at top is Nancy Childs of Saint Joseph’s University.

*Editor’s note: Amplify Marketing Communications is based in Atlanta.

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