What Shoppers and Retailers Want From Apps

Make it easy. Save time. Provide data.

February 11, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Alex Robinson, an original member of Kroger’s mobile development team, has seen grocery apps evolve over the past decade. Now the head of the Atomic Robot app development studio, Robinson has worked with companies like Walmart and Subway to roll out new features and hone services, such as click-and-collect and digital loyalty. GroceryDive.com recently talked with Robinson and Leah Blandford, a UX/UI designer with Atomic Robot, about the future of shopping with mobile apps.

According to Robinson, contactless curbside pickup won’t go away when the pandemic ends. For consumers, contactless payments mean “not having to pull your credit card out or worry about cash and for retailers, saving on credit card transaction fees,” he said. “I think contactless payments are going to continue to be an important aspect of the checkout process.”

Blandford agrees. “Instead of planning for their trip to the store, consumers are planning for pickup orders,” she said, adding that she believes that consumers prefer apps with a personal touch. “I'm just thinking of things like addressing people by name, follow-up surveys to ask about their experience, making sure that [the apps] are checking in on the customer themselves and not just focusing on product moving back and forth.”

But don’t expect one app to meet the needs all consumers, according to Blandford and Robinson.

“Frequent users don't need the same type of functions as the infrequent users,” said Robinson. “While the infrequent shoppers are important, we should try and make the experience as easy as possible for the folks that shop every week.”

Walmart recently created some new app-enabled stores that allow customers to shop, app in hand, and leave the store while bypassing the checkout line. Some customers prefer that type of experience, Robinson said, because it eliminates interaction with store staff.

At Sheetz, customers who have the Sheetz app are able to skip the checkout line in many of the convenience chain’s stores with the SHcan & Go! feature that Sheetz added to its app last spring.

Today’s retailers are looking for basic apps that make life convenient for the customer, but they also want to gather valuable customer data.

“Retailers are spending time and money figuring out how to collect more data and get more intelligence about the customer, both in-store and out of the store,” Robinson noted. “At the same time in the tech industry, privacy continues to be of heightened interest for consumer protection. I don't think consumers have any idea how much information every major retailer has about them. The big retailers are desperate to figure out how to do that in a way that isn't going to get blocked by the technology or various privacy acts that state and regional governments are putting in place.”

As more stores add apps that attempt to streamline the shopping experience, there must be a differentiator. “I do feel like the differentiator is personalization and being personable and making sure you're really relating to your specific audience,” Blandford said. “You can't just blast out to the masses anymore … You have to be really pointed with your experience.”