Grocery Apps Grow in Importance

Shoppers use them for coupons and bar code scanning

Even though groceries are still mostly bought in-store, many consumers use digital tools before, during and after a visit to a supermarket. These multiple touchpoints provide opportunities for grocers to engage with shoppers. 

According to a February 2018 survey by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and The Hartman Group, 72% of US grocery buyers interact with grocery retailers in some digital form. The most common interaction being the use of a rewards card or account, cited by 50% of those polled. Among those ages 18 to 37 (which this study classified as millennials), the leading touchpoint used is a mobile app (51%). And this group is almost twice as likely to engage with a grocer on social media than the average.

In a May 2018 survey by Market Force Information, 44% of US consumers said they used a grocery app, up from 39% in 2017. This study drilled down into what types of mobile apps shoppers use and found that the overwhelming majority (79%) had used a grocer's branded app in the past 90 days. Checkout 51 (21%) and SavingStar (11%) were the next two cited by name, while weekly ads and sales apps, generally, had similar levels of usage (11%). 

The survey also found that the primary activity on grocery mobile apps is getting coupons, cited by 82%. Using a bar code scanner is also popular (40%). Many apps like Grocery iQ and Out of Milk use this functionality to quickly add products to a shopping list, and there are also apps for scanning and checking ingredients. 

There is still some debate over whether retailers should have their own branded apps, considering users aren't likely to open them on a daily—or even regular—basis. Coupons used for grocery shopping, however, could meet this frequency criteria. comScore Inc. ranked the leading US retail mobile apps according to unique visitors in March 2018 and only one grocery app made the top 10. Kroger came in ninth place, with 12.0 million visits. 

Regardless, more supermarkets are launching mobile apps. According to a Progressive Grocer survey, 54.2% of US grocers had them in 2018, up from 29.6% last year. And marketers are on the same page as shoppers. When asked about the leading benefits that smartphones provide, the top answer was mobile coupons (55.6%).