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Why grocery on mobile is broken

Mobile apps for grocery need to be re-designed ground up for buying, well, groceries!

The Mobile Revolution is here, we are told, and every year the number of people accessing the internet through their mobile devices increases, beating those accessing the world wide web through any other device. Most of us would like to consume most services through mobile phones as they, unlike a laptop or a PC, don't need to be booted up, logged in, connected to a hotspot and then an app or a browser launched before we can do something worthwhile with it. Given all of these benefits, isn't it therefore a wonder, that all of us are not buying our groceries using Mobile Apps?

Why don't we all buy our groceries using a Mobile App? Sure, some of us do, and we are called the early adopters, but, why haven't the majority of the world, in developed or emerging economies, moved to buying groceries through Mobile Apps? This is a question that vexed us at Senfina when we set out to build our Mobile App - ShoppingJoe .

We first did our bit of secondary research - we reviewed a ton of research reports, read every article & book and saw every video related to this area and then proceeded to do our own primary research. We began by downloading all the grocery buying apps and grocery list making apps we came across and started using them. We observed our buying experience and meticulously noted down what we, as consumers, liked about the experience and what we did not like. Surprisingly for us, the ‘did not like’ list was way more larger, than the ‘like’ list. In fact, in most Apps, we actually hated the experience.

Almost all of the Apps, are just faithful copies of e-commerce apps, which have now been deployed to do the duty for groceries. But, groceries are a completely different ball game from electronics or apparel or books. We don't buy 10 different mobiles or 15 types of televisions, but we do have those many or more items in our cart, when we buy groceries. Unlike an e-commerce purchase, where we usually buy one or two items at a time, in Grocery Apps, we bought way more items in a single purchase – typically 25-30 items were in our cart. So, we need something that has been designed ground up for this. 

The first thing that we noticed straight away was, what we have come to call the "Death by Scrolling" experience. Almost on every app, the user invariably was asked to scroll away to eternity, in order to browse all the available products. In some cases, the scrolling literally never stopped. We didn’t like that, obviously and assume most other users too would not like this experience. It is too time consuming and tiring and there is always a lurking fear that if we don't browse till the end of the list, then we might miss out on something that we need. 

Secondly, since we had a lot of items in our cart, this led us to what we now call the “Shelf-Cart Toggle”, i.e., the constant toggling between what was in the Cart, (what we had already purchased) and what was still on the figurative Shelf – the items not yet purchased. This happened primarily because, during the phase of browsing the products, the above stated “Death by Scrolling” user experience meant, it took us a long time to find each item that we wanted and by the time we had added 2 or 3 items to the Cart, we typically would get interrupted either by a phone call, a message or someone at the door or someone physically demanding our attention and after the interruption, we had to pick up the threads to continue where we left off.

Another major reason for the constant toggle to the cart on multiple occasions was that we typically had a Shopping List, either written down, or in an App or in our minds and we needed to keep refreshing our memories with what was in the Cart and therefore had to be struck off our list and what had not yet been purchased, to make sure that we didn’t miss out anything from our list.

A third thing that we noted was the inefficiency of the process for a User to review and consume all the Offers in the Store. Sure, there were Offers aplenty available, but they were typically collected in a single “Offers” Section and every offer, when tapped on, would bring us to screen to buy the product on which the offer was available, to be added to the Cart, and interrupt the process of reviewing the Offers. So, every time an Offer was found, the process of adding that Offer to the Cart interrupted with the process of reviewing the available Offers, making for multiple visits to the “Offers” Section.

An additional challenge we noticed with efficiently consuming the Offers was that while the Offers Section would state the details of the Offer - such as Buy Two Get One Free, but if we actually added two of the items on offer to the Cart, the free item would not get automatically added, resulting in the User having to manually remember the Offer and add it and note that they would not get charged for the third item. 

While there were numerous other issues that we noted, the above adequately makes the point that the process was sufficiently broken enough for a User to not choose to go back to using the App for making their subsequent grocery purchase, if they ever at all went all the way to the Check Out and actually placed their Order, in the first place.

The above shopping experiences taught us that if we need to design a Mobile App for Grocery Shopping, then, we need to radically re-think the existing user interfaces and typical product designs that all the apps out there were using. We therefore, set out to design an App that would systematically address all the challenges / inefficiencies that we noticed and solve them as elegantly as possible, without creating newer usage challenges.

A design guideline that we followed was that, recognizing the fact that in most households, the member that typically ends up making the grocery run, need not necessarily be the most digitally savvy native of the household, we had to ensure that the design refrained from consciously using many of the smart gestures that have evolved over the recent past, including the necessity to use two fingers or pinching or zooming.

We believe that if the Users are provided with a well thought through App for any purpose, then, they will adopt it. However, if they are presented with just another me-too App, which has just been faithfully copied from another App or the designers haven’t done the basic research before building the App, the adoption of mobile channels for groceries will continue to be challenged. 


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