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Cracking the Mobile Grocery Nut

Supermarkets must address two conflicting realities in their search for the perfect marriage of mobile shopping and grocery shopping. Here’s how to solve for both.

Writer's note: Like my colleague Bill Clark recently posted , this is also my first blog for Ubermobile. I've been working in mobile since 1996, back when few people had a mobile phone and most operators didn't even offer SMS services. A lot has changed in that time, and these changes show no sign of slowing up. I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts, ideas and occassionaly random comments on all things mobile.

So lets start with something we all have to do...

If you’re like me, you have a love/hate relationship with grocery shopping. I can enjoy strolling the aisles, reading the wine reviews, tasting a new cheese or two, giving careful consideration to each and every ice cream flavor.If I’m not pressed for time, that is. But if I am, which is more often the case, I’m grumbling as I slip between the doors just before closing to pick up the butter, bread or eggs I need for dinner or breakfast next morning.

These are the two conflicting realities facing supermarkets as they cast about to find the perfect marriage of mobile shopping and grocery shopping.

Pioneering food retailers: Listen up. I have an idea.

Except for the addition of the barcode scanning, grocery mobile apps so far have a serious case of déjà vu: order your food online or via mobile app, and it’ll show up at your door at some point in the future. WebVan, anyone? To be fair, that company flopped due to overinvestment in infrastructure, not lack of popularity. But still, there’s a limited market for grocery delivery. Most people don’t want to get their groceries delivered. In fact, two-thirds of online shoppers pick up their groceries (as reported by digital grocery service provider My WebGrocer).

People want to choose their own produce, wander the aisles to find new products, get a few free samples. Mobile can’t replace that shopping experience.

At the same time, most trips to the market include a certain amount of stocking up on the exact same staples we buy week.

What if grocers capitalized on this trend, making it easy to submit the boring stuff via mobile app in advance? Just poured the last bit of milk into your morning tea? Use your smartphone and the supermarket’s mobile app to scan the barcode and add it to your virtual shopping list.

Your local store could have your order packed and ready to check out when you arrive. Then you get to spend whatever time you have looking over the biscuits and finding the perfect bunch of bananas. It’s more convenient, and much more enjoyable. The shopping list app could even provide some guidance — the perfect bottle of wine to complement the cheese I’ve just selected at the fromage counter, for example.

This kind of arrangement would benefit stores as well, as they’d be able to devote more shelf space to the more expensive cheeses, wines, and other high-margin goods that make them more money—and give time-pressed shoppers a better experience.