The grocery industry is reinventing itself to meet rapidly changing shopping habits and fierce competition. Among the changes, grocers are adopting apps and a multi-channel approach to engage and provide more value for their consumers. In fact, 56.1 percent of grocers are either in the process of establishing or currently running a strategy that combines online, digital, and in-store experiences.

Apps play a critical role in these new multi-channel approaches. Just in the last year, the percentage of grocers offering mobile shopping apps for their shoppers went from 29.6 to 54.2. Shoppers now insist on app experiences from their grocery stores. They also expect more from the apps themselves. Unfortunately many of today's grocery store apps fall short of providing real value for shoppers.

As award-winning app creators and tech-minded shoppers, we leveraged the extensive expertise at Savvy Apps to analyze food retail industry app experiences and identify ways to improve grocery store apps. We wrote this resource to help grocery retail executives understand how to better their apps to win consumer loyalty and outdo their competition.

Taking the Time to Understand Your Shoppers and Your Competition

In the 10 years we've spent creating apps, we've seen too many businesses launch app experiences without first considering the unique needs of their users. We know that earning shopper loyalty goes beyond providing a card or program. It relies on addressing your shoppers' needs more than your competitors.

To meet this goal, you need to understand what your shoppers care about most, what kind of shopping experience they want, and why they might turn to other grocery stores. That's why conducting extensive user research and competitive analysis is by far the most important step you can take when creating an app.

According to a recent Food Marketing Institute report, shoppers prioritize “good prices, quality products, good promotions, clean stores, positive customer service and short checkout lines.” A successful app will work to meet those needs, either fully within the app itself, or through the grocery store's entire multi-channel experience.

Before you start designing your app or analyzing your existing app, ask the following questions to get at your shoppers' needs and expectations:

  • How do your shoppers currently act with your in-store or digital products?
  • How often do they visit your store? What times/days of the week? Large or small shopping trips?
  • Which departments and deals appeal to them more?
  • Do they arrive with shopping lists or plan in-store? Women are more likely to plan ahead, using digital products to check prices and create shopping lists, than men, according to the Progressive Grocer.
  • What technology do they use? Have they adopted digital wallets, smartwatches, and digital assistants? These devices provide more ways to reach your shoppers where they are already active.
  • What do your shoppers currently dislike about shopping in your store? What do they want they you don't offer? For example, Millennials are more likely to want alerts warning them about allergens when scanning products.
  • When and why might your shoppers turn to another store to conduct their business?

Once you've identified what's important to your shoppers and their behavior, you can use that to inform your app's core features, branding, and other key decisions along the way.

Perfecting Common Grocery App Features

We've noticed some trends in features across the food retail industry. Though these features are common in today's grocery store apps, few grocers execute them in effective ways.

Browse and Search Inventory

To create a good inventory experience for your app, you need to make it easy for shoppers to find the stock items they want. This is easier said than done given the number and range of items available to consumers. A way to accomplish this is by optimizing your app's browsing structure and search.

Walmart's Grocery app allows users to browse and select seasonal stock items.

Help shoppers find the items they are most interested in by grouping stock items in a logical order. Consider using photos or icons to make it easier for shoppers to identify stock items at a glance. These assets also make products more visually appealing. As for search, speed and responsiveness are key. Utilize smart search to limit the amount of typing your shoppers have to input before finding the products they're searching for. Also be sure to make it easy to tell if an item is in stock or not at the shopper's local store.

Walmart's Grocery app does a decent job of optimizing their product inventory. In addition to including smart search and product photos, Walmart's app offers several ways to browse: by featured item (in this case, a seasonal selection), by best-sellers in the user's location, and by department. When the shopper selects an item, the app directs them to a detailed product screen where they receive more detailed product information, including nutritional info if relevant, as well as an easy way to favorite each item and add it to their shopping list. We would like to see the Walmart Grocery app include product ratings and indicate whether items are available for pickup or delivery from local stores. These features are available in the main Walmart app.

Another way to improve your grocery store app's browse feature is to make it dynamic. We talk about this more in-depth in a later section.

Save and Sync Shopping Lists

Your shoppers will create and use their shopping lists for many different scenarios. Your app needs to plan for them all. One of the most neglected use cases in grocery store apps is the option to save shopping lists or display frequently purchased items. This allows shoppers who tend to buy the same things to quickly create their shopping lists.

The Wegmans app shows users which products are available in their local stores.

Adding sync functionality to your shopping list feature is a powerful way to meet shopper expectations. Consider the ability to sync shopping lists for more than one user. This allows entire families to access and update the same list, eliminating overlap and confusion. Another way to use syncing in your shopping lists is by syncing a shopping list across your store's website and app. This enables a user to create a shopping list on the website while at home or work earlier in the day, then access their list from their device at the store when they're ready to shop.

Besides those scenarios, grocery store apps should include satisfying ways to check off list items while shopping in-store. It may seem obvious, but providing important location information, like aisle numbers, goes a long way toward simplifying shopping trips.

The Wegmans app expands on the basic shopping list feature by providing product suggestions and allowing shoppers to see items that they frequently buy as well as recent order histories. Wegmans' app also allows shoppers to see the availability of products as well as estimated total price for the items on their shopping lists. Shoppers can share their shopping lists with others, though this is currently only available through email.

One of our favorite things about the Wegmans shopping list feature is the ability to check off items on a list without removing them completely. We discovered the importance of this when conducting user research for Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters app. You might expect shoppers to want an item to disappear from their shopping list once they locate it in the store. We found, however, that shoppers prefer to keep a record of everything in case they check off the wrong item or want to look back at the list of things they've put in their cart.

In-store Navigation and Barcode Scanning

The Jet app offers a barcode scanner feature that provides additional information about products.

You can simplify and enrich your shoppers' in-store experiences by providing a few valuable features in your app. One of the most obvious (we've mentioned it before) is providing aisle locations for products. You can take that a step further, however, and offer a map view to give your shoppers more detailed information about their local store.

Some stores offer barcode scanning as a way to engage and further educate shoppers in their stores. This feature provides a way for shoppers to scan SKUs with their devices for prices, reviews, and more general information about the products in-hand. Jet (owned by Walmart) users have the option to use the app to scan SKUs on items they find in stores or in their homes. When a shopper scans an SKU in the with the Jet app, they're taken to that item's product page where they can see price, description, reviews, suggestions for similar products, and more information.

Accurate and Intuitive Coupons

Coupon features are clunky in existing grocery store apps. It's essential to provide value with minimal effort to make this feature effective. To do so, grocery store apps need to refine the way shoppers discover, add, and apply coupons before and during their shopping trips.

The first step in optimizing digital coupons is to organize them in a way that makes relevant deals easy for shoppers to find. All coupon filtering, sorting, and searching needs to be easy and intuitive. Not only should you use a logical structure for organizing coupons, you need to keep your filtering and sorting accessible by providing ways for shoppers to navigate a long list of deals. Go a step further and offer a barcode scanner that automatically searches for relevant coupons within the app, like Target's Cartwheel scanner.

Users get to customize their coupon experience within the Safeway app by choosing between two different view options.

Once shoppers identify which coupons they want to use, they need a way to select and ready them for checkout. We recommend automatically adding the coupons to a user's shopping cart once selected. Be sure to include the option to add all coupons at once as opposed to making shoppers go through and select them one at a time. You should also include the ability to remove coupons in case a shopper changes their mind about a product halfway through a shopping trip.

Coupons should sync instantly with shopper rewards cards. Shoppers shouldn't have to wait up to 24 hours for digital coupons to show up our their cards, especially if they plan on visiting your store before then. Your shoppers should also have the ability to add coupons they find in your store to their app's shopping list for use during checkout. After checkout, the app should tally the coupons applied so shoppers can check against their receipts.

Safeway hits the mark on most of the items mentioned above. We're especially impressed with how the Safeway app handles search functionality for coupons. Shoppers can browse offers by product category, recently purchased items, as well as latest and soon-to-expire deals. They can also change the way the results appear in the app and leverage smart search to make typing a query quick and easy.

Speedy, Mobile Checkout

One of the main pain points for shoppers is the time spent waiting in line at the store. Beyond self-checkout technology, mobile wallets go a step further in speeding up the checkout process. Some food retailers are considering scan-as-you-go features to allow shoppers to bypass the lines entirely. More shoppers are starting to expect these options at checkout. According to market research by Progressive Grocer, mobile wallets appealed to 16.7 percent of shoppers and scan-as-you-go to 17.6 in 2018.

To do mobile wallets right, your app needs to offer simple, in-store experiences for the major digital payment options. This includes options like Apple Pay and Google Pay, as well as the ability to add loyalty, rewards, and gift cards to Apple Wallet. The IKEA Family card, for example, loads into Apple Wallet and is easy to apply at checkout. Shoppers should be able to use those payment options at all checkout lines, including self-service and cashier.

Communicating Your Brand Through Visual Design

The Starbucks app utilizes professional, dramatic photography to make their products stand out.

We've noticed that grocery store apps tend look, feel, and act alike. You work hard to create brand loyalty with rewards programs, deals, and the overall in-store shopping experience. It makes sense then to make sure your app looks and feels as much like your brick-and-mortar store as possible.

This goes far beyond telling shoppers that they're interacting with your store on a new platform. By using familiar iconography, colors, fonts, and messaging, you're evoking the same emotions, experiences, and expectations they already attribute to your store. Take advantage of photography, custom visuals, and brand elements to match the level of quality your store's brand communicates. The Starbucks app, for example, utilizes the same branding guidelines across their website and app. They leverage photography and brand elements in particular to make their digital experiences feel like sipping a personalized drink inside one of their cafes.

If the app for your high-end grocery store looks generic, with poor design and a sub-par digital experience, it greatly diminishes your brand value and chips away at customer loyalty. Your app not only needs to work well, but look and feel like the store your shoppers already know and love.

Understanding Use Cases and Consistency Across Platforms

It's important for grocers to communicate their existing brands across new platforms, app included. To do so, you need to leverage different screen sizes, contexts and environments, and expectations to provide value and consistency whether your shoppers are engaging with you online, on your app, or in your store.

To start, you need to understand how your shoppers will use all or part of your web, mobile, and in-store offerings. Will your shoppers use your website to research and create shopping lists from home or work? Will they tap into your app for ordering and in-store pickup, or use it to locate and price check items in the aisles? These questions will help you identify how to provide value at critical moments of your shopper's multi-channel experience.

Once you've identified the use cases for your shoppers, you need to create a user experience that is intuitive and flows seamlessly between your platforms. Shoppers should understand the benefits of using each platform and easily move between them to accomplish their goals. For example, consider the experience you want a shopper to have if they create a shopping list at home and return to it while inside your store, or place an order through your website and receive a notification or text when their items are ready for pick-up.

Removing Barriers of Entry

Beware putting obstacles in the path of your shoppers. Many grocery store apps keep their features locked behind complicated sign-ups and log-ins. Too many barriers will confuse and frustrate your shoppers, deterring them from using your app.

One way to familiarize shoppers with your app, build trust with them, and encourage them to try it out is to make useful features available to users before requiring them to register for an account. The Target app, for example, allows new users to select a store location, browse and search the entire store catalog, and add items to a shopping cart without signing up for an account or logging in.

Target promotes the features available to users if they sign up for an account.

Not all of your features need to be available upfront. Use your onboarding messaging to tease the more valuable features available to shoppers if they sign up. Again, Target succeeds with this by allowing guest users to navigate the entire app, prompting them to sign up or log in when they try to access more advanced features like completing a purchase, Cartwheel offers, coupons, digital wallet, and shopping list.

It's then important to simplify the registration process for those who do want to use your full-featured app. Make it as easy as possible to connect new app users with their existing shopping rewards programs and any other accounts they may have. Also take steps to make logging in as painless as possible for returning users. Don't keep prompting a shopper to log in. You can also leverage biometric login or integration with other popular password apps like 1Password for easier access. The Target and Jet apps offer Face ID authentication, for example. Instacart permits users to log in using popular, third-party authentication, like Facebook and Google.

Take it a step further and use deep linking to provide a specialized experience for your shoppers. Deep linking allows you to funnel your shoppers to a specific screen within your app. We've utilized deep linking to help our customers send out personalized invitations to further entice sign-ups and make the onboarding process as simple as possible.

Personalizing Your Shopper's Experience

As consumers grow more accustomed to using apps to complete their shopping, they expect to interact with their grocer in new ways. Shoppers want to move beyond selecting their local stores and connecting their rewards accounts. More are requesting features that let them further personalize their shopping experiences.

Progressive Grocer surveyed shoppers and found that the majority of grocery app users want to be able to choose the type of rewards they get from their stores, while 30 percent want to receive personalized offers when they visit certain departments or aisles. This is particularly true for female users and Millennials.

Personalization makes shoppers feel like their unique needs are being met. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, grocery store apps should include personalized features that make shoppers feel as though they're choosing an app that understands who they are and what they value. Some ways to accomplish this include:

  • Giving the app the ability to learn a user's shopping purchases and patterns, and then prompting that person at times when they're likely to need to re-up on those items.
  • Offering special deals based on the user's shopping habits.
  • Suggesting relevant products and making browsing dynamic based on what's popular in the shopper's geographic region, special season necessities, and frequently purchased items.
  • Leveraging geo-location to greet customers as they enter the store and offer relevant deals as they move through the aisles.
  • Using 3D store navigation to map out your shopper's route and key aisle locations for use in-store (based on their shopping list).

These tactics not only make shopping easier for your customers, but go a long way toward establishing loyalty, increasing shopping trips, and filling baskets.

Making Shopping Fun

It's time for grocer gamification strategies to move beyond traditional rewards programs. That same Progressive Grocer study on shopper preferences also found that 32 percent of shoppers want to win grocery deals and rewards by playing games. While some stores offer special savings and cents off gas gallons, apps provide more creative ways for shoppers to earn incentives.

There are a number of strategies you can use to introduce game elements to your grocery store app. Your app could challenge and reward shoppers for visiting often or filling their shopping carts with a certain number or type of items. It could create urgency by placing time-limits on specials. You might want to leverage your app to encourage shoppers to strike a pose in a specific aisle and share a photo with friends.

You could take it a step further with programs that encourage more involvement. Consider creating a reviewer community that provides special perks for the most active or best stock item reviewers. Your shoppers might want to take part in fitness programs that reward them for exercising within and outside your stores. Scavenger-hunt programs might draw more families into your stores more often and increase the time they spend there. Healthy eating programs could reward points towards deals for purchasing certain products. Your app could even contain a recipes section that allows shoppers to post their favorite recipes (with pre-made shopping lists!).

Concluding Note

There's enormous opportunity available to grocery retail executives today to transform their businesses with apps. Done right, grocery store apps can increase loyalty by providing real value for shoppers. It takes a special expertise to know just how strategy, design, development, and marketing come together to create a world-class app. The most successful apps are born from extensive user research, competitive analysis, brand extension, user experience design, testing, and much more. We can help you with that.

Learn about how we can help you create an app that resonates with your users and surpasses your competition by checking out our website. When you're ready to talk, drop us a line on our contact form or get a head start with our app brief.

August 29, 2018
Written By:

Whitney Rhodes

Whitney Rhodes is the lead editor for the Savvy Apps blog. She helps share Savvy Apps' extensive knowledge with all who seek to build better apps.