From the Publisher: There is an app for that?
By Seth Mendelson
The app store may have many benefits, but right now good old merchandising and marketing still rules the roost at grocery stores. Okay, I am going to admit it. I am going against the politically correct narrative that says just about anything technology focused is good for business—particularly retail business. In this case my concerns are about apps hitting the marketplace in which the owners/developers claim, “will help consumers be better, more efficient shoppers and help retailers gain a better understand of who shops their stores.” In recent months I have been bombarded by public relations companies and developers telling me that they have the next great app that will help retailers and their shoppers gain a better understanding of each other. For example, they tell me that they have apps that enable consumers to walk the aisles and instantly find the best product at the best price or they will tell shoppers about a product’s ingredients in a heartbeat. Others try to sell me on apps that will allow retailers to know more about their customers in a snap, usually by some kind of gizmo that follows customers around the store and monitors their shopping patterns. In the end, I am told, the big winner will be retailers who, with more knowledge of how their customers shop, will have the correct mix of products on their shelves. I do not buy it, and I did a little legwork to prove it. I spent a full day in three suburban New Jersey supermarkets a few weeks ago simply watching how consumers purchased items. My very unscientific adventure experiment found that consumers purchase products in one or two ways: they either had a mental or physical list and followed it or they walked up and down aisles and are drawn to a product or category by in-store merchandising or product packaging. The only times I saw consumers use smartphones was to communicate with someone else and I overheard some pretty interesting conversations with husbands and friends, usually about what time the shopper would arrive home and what was for dinner. Now I am not saying that these apps do not have any place in retailing. My guess is that consumers might use one when shopping for a high-ticket item like a television or computer. I have to believe that an app for new or used cars may actually have some fans in the marketplace. However, when it comes to purchasing peas and carrots, frozen dinners, toothpaste or cereal, my opinion is that consumers are not going to jump on their smartphones and start trying to figure out what store has the best price on shelf-stable lemonade or butter cookies. Instead, they are going to keep doing what they have been doing for decades. That is shopping at the most convenient supermarket, which also offers the best options, good pricing and great selection. And, they are going to look at the products that they know through advertising, or catch their eye through packaging. Just like the good old days.