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Your future is mobile

Consumers want grocery stores to solve their problems. And today’s smartphone apps help do just that

Tracking smartphone trends isn’t strictly for industries that cater to cool techno-hipsters anymore. With an estimated five million users of the iPhone and other smartphones in Canada today, these on-the-go computers are making cellphones as out-of-date as Ma Bell’s old rotary telephones.

Why should grocers care? Because an increasing number of grocery shopping applications are being made available for smartphones. Some let consumers develop shopping lists and share them with their friends. Others compare prices or find online coupons and recipes. For instance, CompareMe, an app that costs $1.99 on iTunes, lets shoppers plug in an item’s price, volume and weight information and then compare it to a similar product to find which is the better deal. Ziplist, a free app, lets them create customized shopping lists and share it with friends and family.

Right now, no one’s offering an integrated shopping solution that helps consumers through the whole process

But only a few apps are being created by retailers. That’s a missed opportunity, says Neela Sakaria, vice-president at Latitude, a digital consultancy based in Beverly, Mass. Latitude recently published a survey on mobile apps and grocery shopping called “Interactive Future of Food,” which found shoppers expect grocers to solve their problems. And apps are an easy way to do that.

Three problems grocery shoppers hope smartphones can help them with are: the cost of the product; where it can be found in-store; and backstory information such as the origin of the product and its ingredients.

Companies that offer practical applications that tackle these information needs are growing. ShopSavvy, a location-based price comparison service developed by Dallas-based Big In Japan Co., has 5.5 million users in the U.S. and is expanding to Canada. Although about 20,000 retailers are participating in ShopSavvy’s service, food retailers have been reluctant to provide their pricing and product data to independent developers thus far, says co-founder Alexander Muse. However, the floodgates are opening: Walmart recently released its grocery data to ShopSavvy and other developers. “Now that Walmart has exposed its prices and inventory to us, we believe other food retailers will have to follow suit. Otherwise, consumers will get bombarded with messages about the cheap prices at Walmart in mobile shopping apps.”

In the U.K., top food retailers are starting to develop their own applications, says Stewart Samuel, a Vancouver-based analyst at IGD, a grocery industry research company. Tesco recently launched an app with phone giant Nokia that lets shoppers order groceries and schedule deliveries. “Tesco caters to working moms who can now do their shopping while they’re at their desks or stuck in the subway.”

For grocers, developing smartphone apps means thinking not just about which information consumers want when they’re in the stores, but what happens before and after, says Sakaria. “Right now, no one’s offering an integrated shopping solution that helps consumers through the whole process: seeing a recipe on the Food Network, then generating a shopping list, finding the ingredients and how much they cost, and so on.”

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