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Get ready for the battle of the apps

All the major grocers now have shopping apps.

Over the past year, experts have highlighted the growing importance of smartphones in the hands of shoppers.

Many predict that a sizable proportion of grocery shopping will soon be done with smartphones.

READ: Loblaw rolls out PC Plus rewards program nationally

But exactly how remains unclear. Will phones let shoppers scan products, then automatically check out?

Or will they alert shoppers to in-store specials and guide them to the right spot in the correct aisle?

“Mobile should be providing shoppers with innumerable benefits,” a recent Ad Age article noted.

The magazine asked shoppers what apps they want on smartphones: 16% cited mobile coupons to save money; 16% want apps to check product availability in-store; 15% want services to help them find their way around the store; and 13% want product recommendations and reviews.

But even if such apps were available, it’s not clear they would be used with any frequency. “Often, a shopper’s priority is the speed of the purchase, as opposed to the best deal,” Ad Age wrote.

Such inconsistencies create headaches for retailers. Should they have an app? Shouldn’t they? Not long ago I called Canada’s big grocery players, and a couple of smaller ones, to see what they are doing with apps.

Quality Foods on Vancouver Island has been a leader in technology over the years so, of course, it has an app. It works much like a weekly flyer, says Ken Schley, president, and in conjunction with Quality’s loyalty program, the Q-Card.

Quality cardholders can use their phones in place of a plastic loyalty card. They can select the products they want to get at a discounted price, with the discount applied when their phone is scanned at checkout. And Quality can track purchases to target individual shoppers with manufacturers’ specials.

Loblaw has a fully digitized PC Plus loyalty app that stores a member’s account number. The app holds shopping lists and provides recipes. Special offers are uploaded each week, many of them based on the individual customer’s buying habits.

READ: For Metro, lights, camera, and app!

The app also acts like a flyer, and items can be added to a shopper’s list with a single click. Just like Loblaw’s PC Financial Card, the app turns purchases into points, which can be redeemed for groceries: 20,000 points translates into $20.

Grocery Gateway, the home delivery arm of Longo Brothers in Ontario, has an app that works exactly like the Grocery Gateway website. You can shop, choose delivery times and check out via your smartphone.

Longo’s also recently launched an app that lets customers build shopping lists and receive personalized flyers. It’s connected to Longo’s Thank You loyalty card, which offers 50 points for every $25 spent.

At the beginning of this September, Metro launched an app that, like Loblaw’s PC Plus app, provides coupons, a weekly flyer and recipes, all of which can be used to compile a shopping list.

Metro’s app is tied in with the grocer’s revamped website, at Members of the Metro & Moi loyalty program in Quebec, and Air Miles in Ontario, can also receive personalized coupons each week as well as recommended recipes based on past purchase history.

Metro’s president, Eric La Flèche, says the app is part of Metro’s digital strategy designed to bring new tools

to shoppers.

Also in September, Sobeys launched an app. It offers recipes and a smart shopping list for meal planning. Like Metro, Sobeys relaunched its website at the same time.

Prior to introducing the app, Paul Flinton, VP of marketing services for Sobeys, said the company doesn’t view an app as a single, standalone product. “We believe the consumer uses a combination of digital and social platforms to satisfy their food needs and shopping requirements, and that all of these platforms need to work in harmony,” he said.

Canada Safeway was working to adapt Safeway’s U.S. app for use here. But that has been delayed now that the Canadian division has been purchased by Sobeys.

Research shows that of the thousands of apps available, most smartphone owners use only four or five. For grocers, the real test is making sure their app is one of those four or five.

George Condon is Canadian Grocer's consulting editor. His Checking Out column appears in every issue of the magazine.

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