Viewpoints [1]

Digital Apps Mobilize Smartphone Shoppers

Strategies that shift labor from store associates to shoppers have elicited mixed reviews from retailers and the consumers they’re designed to empower.

Last year, Albertson LLC [3] scrapped its self-checkouts for more face time and Big Y [4] uprooted self-serve lanes, finding them more of a vexation than time saver.

But retailers needn’t reengineer store layouts to test the best ways to help shoppers help themselves. A less-risky means of empowerment is coming to consumers courtesy of their mobile phone.

One of the best examples can be found at Stop & Shop where handheld devices lent to loyalty cardholders to scan, tally and bag groceries in the aisles are supplemented with a mobile app featuring all of the same bells and whistles.

“This app will keep me a loyal Stop & Shop shopper,” exclaimed one fan.

Users are recognized for their self-reliance with highly relevant offers based on purchase history and location in the store. And human interaction isn’t totally lost, as users can opt to pay at staffed (or self-service) checkout lanes.

Supermarkets are using smartphone platforms to mobilize shoppers in other ways — some are even initiating interaction between employees and their customers.

Just last week, Hy-Vee [5] unveiled an app that makes it easy for users to report out-of-stocks via Twitter. Requests are routed by the Hy-Vee employee in charge of the Twitter account to the designated associate at the shopper’s store.

Imagine the opportunities for Hy-Vee as frustrated consumers begin feeding it real time information about its inventories. A Hy-Vee spokeswoman clued me in to its plan. She said that if caught immediately an associate will greet the shopper in the aisle — maybe with product in hand — and possibly preempt a trip to a different chain.

Hy-Vee can do something for shoppers who’ve left the store too, by expressing regrets and even offering a discount as consolation, via Twitter.

For relatively little investment, the opportunities seem infinite. And although creating a mobile app isn’t the logistical undertaking of installing (or removing) self-checkout lanes, the same attention to detail applies. Just as with any tool meant to help shoppers complete their trip more expeditiously, efficiency is key. Waste their time and forget about having them do-it-themselves again, they may not even afford you the opportunity to do it for them.