WersDa Blog

Providing our mobile expertise to supermarkets

Grocery apps written BY grocery stores perform better than apps written FOR grocery stores

Ryan Lons

It’s no secret that we at WersDa are big proponents for grocery stores taking their consumer facing software development in-house. Well, the numbers are in and it looks like the masses agree. Looking at both iPhone and Android apps for over 40 of the largest US based grocery retailers, some clear conclusions become apparent.

Apps developed in-house average about 2.8 out of 5 stars in the App Store and 3.7 out of 5 stars in Google Play.  Apps developed by 3rd parties average 2.05 stars in the App store and 3.10 in Google Play. What’s more in-house app ratings are getting better up from 2.67 in the App Store and 3rd party built apps are getting worse, down from 2.3 in the app store.

Interesting, but what does it mean?
There are no black and white answers to be had here but here are some of the contributing causes.

1) Who’s getting paid for what impacts long term quality
In-house developers tend to care more about your shoppers than 3rd party developers. Your app is a custom piece of software. Custom software is generally not provided as a service but rather as a product, a deliverable. It’s very difficult to offer fully customized software in a service type of fashion because customer software delivery doesn’t scale well. Each client needs something different. The 3rd parties motivation is to get your software done a.s.a.p. and make sure YOU are happy with it. Your being pleased with a delivered piece of software is different from your customers being happy. In order to make your shoppers happy you need to have some end user back and forth. Iteration, experimentation and testing are key to creating a great user experience. Your in-house developers get paid to do this high degree of customization and tweaking, but 3rd parties start cutting into their profit margins when they go that deep. This means they don’t have as much motivation for delivering exactly what your shoppers want. And the logical conclusion of that is that 3rd party built apps rank lower on average than do in-house built apps.

Quick point of clarification: Using 3rd party SDKs and APIs as add-ons to an in-house built app is generally much safer because the APIs and SDKs are not custom to you. They scale well and their creators can tweak, experiment and test the SDK or API to ensure it provides an ideal experience to both you and your end users. There is no financial motivation to get done quick and move onto the next paying client because SDKs and APIs are generally SAAS models. Maintenance and new features built in to the process.

2) Maintenance issues
Specking of maintenance, this causes 3rd party apps to get worse. If they have multiple clients then every time an iOS or android update comes out they need to service every one of their clients. This means the clients that pay most get done first. But while you get your updates you’ll likely want a couple new features too. If you get your features other people get their updates pushed back, maybe indefinitely. Good luck getting your updates in a reasonable amount of time if you’re last in line. Also many updates require look and feel changes, this usually requires the input of a UI designer, and some sort of product owner sign off. These organizational layers create a lot of overhead. Meanwhile the apps are caught in limbo, features stop working and the bad reviews start rolling in.

3) Competency growth
This causes in-house built apps to get better. Having a well-run in-house team is like owning a really good rental property. Not only does it make your current situation better with the rental income, it will also grow in value as the years go by. Your software development department gives you immediate results while also improving your long term positioning. Learning how to create and manage good software development department is becoming as integral a part of every good sized business as having a marketing department or a sales department. And just like your sales and marketing departments, as the software departments grows you will get iterative and incremental improvement on the output of that department. It’s illustrated perfectly today with the app rating improvements.

The idea that grocery store companies would need to have competent and effective software development departments may have sounded ludicrous in 2007. It may sound ludicrous to many individuals today. But this is a growing reality, and they benefits are becoming apparent for those brave early adopters. There is still a lot of room for growth. A 2.8 star rating maybe an improvement to last years numbers but it’s a far cry from saying the grocery store industry makes great apps. If you’re not already building software in house then it may be time to investigate it as strategy moving forward. If you’re already building in-house software, good job, now focus on more than implementing an app, focus on providing real value to your shoppers.