Grocery stores are entering the planet of the apps

Supermarket chains including Metro and Longo's are exploring the app world, with some appetizing results


ABOUT A YEAR AGO, ALMOST NO grocery chain in Canada had an app. But now apps are fast becoming must-haves as big grocers try to personalize the shopping experience in a mobile world.

There’s good reason chains are turning to apps. Shoppers are virtually living on their phones, says Ron Welke, associate vice-president of food at Federated Co-operatives in Saskatoon.

Data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau shows Canadians now spend 1.9 hours a day on their mobile devices. That’s more than they spend on desktop computers.

People “want access to information on their mobile devices” and grocers have to be “in tune,” Welke says.

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Federated launched its app, in December 2012, with basic information such as store hours and locations. Shiny features have since been added, including a weekly flyer customized for the store the app’s user shops at most, and high-value weekly coupons exclusive to the app.

“These are usually much better offers” than what shoppers find in the flyer, Welke says. “Since we added that feature, the number of downloads skyrocketed.”

Federated’s coupon offers include $10 off a $100 order and product giveaways on a $50 purchase. Giveaways are primarily on store-branded items to drive interest in the retailer’s private-label Co-op Gold line. The redemption rate is around 10,000 each week, or about 13%.

“It’s certainly brought some customer loyalty,” Welke says. Additional features, such as meal planning and recipe information, are being added to the app.

Metro Inc. has added smiles to its app to help mobile users prepare healthy shopping lists.

The smiles, part of the “My Healthy Plate with Metro” healthy eating program, identify better-for-you food choices. Users with iPhones can also scan bar codes to add products right to their grocery lists. The latter feature makes preparing lists easier and faster, believes Gino Plevano, Metro’s senior director of digital strategy and platforms.

READ: Metro’s upgraded web, app identifies good food choices

The My Metro app, launched last September, has greatly outperformed expectations. Seventy per cent of users have downloaded the four updates issued since the app was released.

“It’s not an application that people download and then don’t use,” says Plevano.

Longo’s in Toronto, meanwhile, is pushing personalized service on its app. Each user gets a customized version of Longo’s flyer based on her profile and shopping behaviour.

Items that she previously bought are given priority followed by items most likely to interest her. A computer model uses predictive algorithms to pick up on buying patterns. For instance, a shopper who tends to buy high-fibre or organic produce may be shown more of these types of products.

The program also does comparisons with other users and identifies trends based on buying history.

READ: Longo’s launches personalized mobile apps

Together with Longo’s personalized flyer, shoppers get a push notification every week listing products on sale that they’ve bought before.

“You never miss a sale for items that you care about,” says Chris Bryson, CEO of Toronto-based Unata, which created Longo’s app.

Longo’s launched the app, last July, with a neat twist: Users can earn Longo’s loyalty currency by simply providing feedback on purchases using a one-to- five star ratings system. Longo’s mobile loyalty members have a 41% higher spend per month than average loyalty program members, Bryson says. And one-third of mobile logins are from new members of the loyalty program.

Bryson believes grocers “want to get back to the experience when store managers knew all their customers by name and knew what products would be best for them.” In a mobile world, apps might actually make it happen.


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