WersDa Blog

Providing our mobile expertise to supermarkets

Why are most grocery store apps so terrible?

Ryan Lons

Many grocery stores have some sort app or mobile site available. Some out them even proudly tout their app in front of their customers. There are even a few solid, well designed, well built grocery store apps out there. Though sadly, the vast majority is fairly awful. The majority of grocery store apps hardly manage to get more than a 2 out of 5 star average rating in the app store. Why is this? There is clearly much room for improvement, and many reasons why the bar is set so low for these apps. Here are two of the biggest:

1) Most apps (not just grocery) fail. Meaning they’re terrible and get deleted
It is generally accepted that technology is important and apps are "good." Many companies treat having an app like a checkmark on their list of “supposed to haves.” Apps are definitely in vogue. They have been for the past few years and will continue to be for a while. If your company has disposable income and it makes you and your C-level individuals happy then why not have an app as a vanity item? There are 1,200,000+ apps available in the App Store, and more in Google Play. The average user has about 42 apps but only 1-4 apps are used daily for about 55% of users. According to MobileWalla, a mobile research firm, 9 out of every 10 apps downloaded will be deleted from users' phones. These numbers show that most apps don’t meet the needs of the user. So why do they continue to exist? In part, because it makes the companies who make them feel good. Even if it isn’t helping their bottom line they can consider themselves modern because they have an app. 

Can't afford to waste money
Grocery stores’ profit margins are too tight to have an app just for the sake of an ego stroke. If you’re a decision maker in a grocery store company then you know this better than most. Grocery stores have been managing their ultra-tight profit margins for decades. Wasting money is a capital offense and the unproven ROI of mobile apps is why many stores haven’t jumped into the deep end and fully embraced the technology. Most grocery store apps simply exist to test the water. (not every app however, Wegmans app and Harris Teeter's app update are notable standouts) Most apps are low investment and low commitment and, unsurprisingly, have low ratings and customer acceptance levels.

2) Grocery stores like technology but are very risk averse
The perception of many consumers is that grocery store companies are afraid of new technology and stuck in the past. You can probably think of at least one store with an archaic POS system not too far from where you live. The thing is grocery stores aren’t technophobes, maybe a bit stingy, but not anti-technology. To be specific they are a bit risk averse. There is not a lot of room to play with when it comes to spending money. A natural side effect is a tendency to overanalyze when it comes to new tech (or new anything for that matter.) This means that if a decision is going to get made, there has to be a fair amount of confidence of positive ROI. 

Being risk adverse has some great benefits
One benefit of being risk averse is that grocery stores love to optimize. Optimization is much less risky and less disruptive than innovation (in the short term at least.) Many grocery stores have decent amounts of tech and software behind the scenes. They track, test, tinker, run statistics and experiment on things all throughout their stores. Things like store volume, layouts, facings, in-store advertisements, etc. The risk of these constant tweaks and experiments is low, and their effect is trackable and can be reduced down to dollar amounts.  Grocery stores love tech for these kinds of purposes and are willing spend money on it. However, spending boatloads of money to update a POS system with the current one works “just fine” is a little more painful. The same thing goes for apps. The questions that tend to get asked are questions like “how much money is this going to cost me? How much will it save me or make me?” The answers to these questions tend to be something like: “It will cost a lot to build or have built and to maintain. Hundreds of thousands at least.” and “How much will it save or make for you? Hard to know, difficult to measure, maybe nothing but probably something” This doesn’t inspire confidence and what results is a low budget, low confidence, low risk app getting pushed out the door 6-12 months later. This is not a winning solution.

Is there any hope?
Absolutely! It starts by asking better questions. Instead of “How much money is this going to cost me?” let's try questions like: 
“What are the shoppers looking for?” 
“How can we add value to their shopping trips with our app?” 
“What is the shopper's biggest pain point with our existing version and how do we fix it?”

We’ll have more articles on this in the future but what it boils down to is that when it comes to apps the customer is king. Not the products and not the company 

Grocery stores do not have tons of money to spend and may tend to focus on optimization instead of innovation and value building. These apparent weaknesses can be turned into strengths when properly utilized. Here at WersDa we look forward to seeing a future of highly optimized and highly innovative mobile technology that builds enormous value for both the shoppers and the stores and it is our goal to help guide the industry in that direction however we can.