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Shopping List App Development: Everything You Need to Know about Grocery Apps

A lot of modern technological advances are driven by people’s ever-growing need to save time and money and to organize their everyday routines efficiently. Taking care of day-to-day housework can be unpleasant and stressful for a lot of people, and grocery shopping is always a significant part of what needs to get done to keep a household functioning. With statistical data showing that two thirds of primary household shoppers use their smartphones while shopping, it is not surprising that mobile app developers have been targeting this segment of the market.

Let’s say you are going to develop an app that helps people shop for groceries. Where do you start? To find the most successful approach you need to understand how people use mobile technology while shopping.

Nancy M. Childs PhD, professor of Food Marketing, outlines three primary motivations of grocery shopping app users in her book “The Digital Grocery Commerce: Insights for Enhancing Consumer Connection with Grocery Shopping Apps:”

  1. Consumer personalization. An app should responds to a user’s personal requirements and cater to their needs.

  2. Convenience. An app should be easy to use and intuitive so that a user doesn’t end up wasting their time.

  3. Economic advantages. An app should offer some ways for a user to save costs, such as coupons or loyalty programs.

Most successful grocery shopping apps on the market such as AnyList, Grocery IQ  and Buy me a pie take into consideration a combination of the above-mentioned motivations.

AnyList shopping appTaking a deeper look into what makes grocery shopping apps successful, we came up with a list of features that are the most and the least desirable (based on Google Play and App Store reviews).

The three most desired features of grocery shopping list apps

  1. Ability to track spending. Users want to have an overview of their current spending combined with infographics that indicate the main areas of spending and recommend a strategy for cutting down expenditures. Interestingly, even though the ability to track spending is listed among one of the most desirable features, top grocery shopping apps in the App Store and Google Play tend to almost completely ignore this feature.

  2. Grocery shopping list reminders. A grocery shopping app can remind users to buy a standard list of groceries that they are most likely to run out of by the end of the week (such as milk, bread, and eggs).  For example, an app called Daily Bread integrates with the built-in Reminders app and lets users know when they are about to run out of groceries.

  3. Coupons and loyalty programs. Most users are equally enthusiastic about digital and printed coupons providing that an app gives them a simple way to turn virtual coupons into real dollar savings. Users would certainly appreciate customised coupons based on a current shopping list. Grocery IQ and SavingStar apps have been praised for helping users optimize their use of coupons and keep up with ever-changing sales and discounts.

Adding a gamification component to some types of grocery apps might make them more attractive for some users: going on a “treasure hunt” for coupons can be quite exciting.

The three least desirable features for a grocery shopping list app:

  1. Generic geo-location notifications. Some users of grocery list apps have privacy concerns related to geo-location and real-life tracking.

A  study released by mobile marketing company Swirl and independent marketing research firm ResearchNow showed that 77 percent of respondents said they’d be fine with sharing location data in exchange for something valuable like a mobile coupon, a digital offer, or a list of stores like the Grocery iQ app offers.

Swirl also found that 65 percent of consumers indicated they trust retail brands over general shopping apps and social platforms, such as Google or Facebook, when it comes to location data.

Despite the controversy, geolocation technology is rapidly developing, with iBeacon being the most recent innovation used to facilitate shopping. Apple cooperates with several different apps to provide users with very precise location information and guides users how to shop fast and save money. Even though some people find the idea of constant push notifications somewhat intrusive, new technology would make shopping easier and more convenient, helping users save time and money. Also, people who do not want beacons to interact with their phones can just avoid using certain apps (like Grocery Shopping List Ease).

Check out our article: 7 things to learn about iBeacon technology and beacons

  1. Strong social media integration (when users cannot access certain features without signing up through social networks/personal accounts on Google etc.)

Research from 2014 suggests that most users think that integrating mainstream social networking into a shopping app was the least important feature when compared with such features as digital coupons, real-time coupons, shopping list reminders, and the ability to track spending.

  1. A great variety of features

There seems to be a growing tendency towards simplification of features: users do not appreciate being snowed under with numerous notifications and constantly haunted by sidebar ads offering products they searched or bought before.

Sometimes a grocery shopping list app should just be a shopping list and nothing more, and there are such apps on the market. For example, all that Buy Me a Pie and ShopIt do is help users create shopping lists and keep them in sync with their family and friends. These apps are quite successful as it turns out.

shopping app development

[the ShopIt grocery shopping app]

Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it is possible to classify current grocery shopping list apps according to three criteria:

  1. Functions

  • Shopping list
  • Grocery Coupons
  • Barcode Scanners
  • Recipe books
  • Grocery shopping reminders
  • Grocery delivery 
  1. Target audience 

  • customers at grocery stores
  • business owners and store chains
  • both businesses and customers
  • Types of data input
  • Manual input  (plus autosuggestion features)
  • Barcode scans/ photo image processing
  • A combination of input methods.

Let’s look closely at different functions that most grocery apps have.

1. Shopping list.  

Instead of using a pen and paper, grocery list apps offer built-in databases with dictionaries so you can quickly add items to your list. Also, entered items can be automatically stored in the dictionary for future fast entry through word prompter.

The best apps also include barcode scanners, email sharing, and online list updating. The lists can be shared with a user’s family members, and if somebody edits their list then others are notified.

Grocery Gadget ($3.99) is one of the more expensive grocery apps, but it has certain features that set it apart from the competition. For example, users can link multiple accounts and send push notifications to other users if they need a last-minute item. The app also links to recipe sources like Big Oven to automatically add ingredients to your shopping list.

2. Grocery Coupons.

Grocery coupons come in different forms, both digital and paper, representing different discount programs and seasonal, weekly, and daily sales. Grocery apps that generate or find relevant coupons based on the previous history of shopping, current shopping list or user’s location can help with family budgeting.

Some apps like  Grocery IQ works with coupons.com. When users add something, the app alerts them if there are coupons available to print or load to their grocery-store loyalty card. The newer PushPins app (linked to 6,000+ stores) automatically loads coupons to a users’ loyalty card and suggests weekly specials when users build their shopping list or scan bar codes in-store.

Grocery coupons for shopping list apps

[Grocery IQ shopping list app]

3. Barcode Scanners

Barcode scanners helps users find out as much as possible about products in the shortest amount of time. To scan their groceries, users aim their phone camera at the bar code of a grocery item and see the price of this item on their screen. They can add the item to an electronic shopping basket. A barcode scanner can also provide information about nutritional value of a particular item or dietary recommendations.

For example, the ShopWell  app with a barcode scanner function helps users eat healthier food and achieve their nutrition goals. It is useful for managing weight and conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and Celiac disease. ShopWell can also facilitate maintaining a vegan or vegetarian diet.

The barcode scanner in the Shopper app ($0.99) is supported by RedLaser, which is one of the top-rated iPhone shopping apps. The RedLaser scanner works very quickly and isn’t as vulnerable to shaking or movements as other iPhone scanners. You can integrate RedLaser SDK with your own iOS or Android shopping list app, but you’d need a database of information to transform the outputs of RedLaser – a barcode number – into meaningful information.

4. Built-in recipe books

AnyList and Yummly  are only a couple examples of a very popular type of grocery list app that combines a recipe book with standard grocery app functions. When AnyList users add recipes, each item needed for a meal is automatically added to their grocery list. BigOven provides over 350,000 recipes, featured collections, and menus, curated by season, holiday, course, lifestyle, diet, and more.

Recipe manager Paprika has a built-in browser that helps users find recipes they like on the web, then imports them to their personal recipe list. Paprika will store the recipe and users can add all the items they need to a grocery list, then remove the ones they already have.

Recipe shopping apps

[Yummly recipes and grocery shopping list app]

5. Grocery delivery

There is a growing demand for apps that help users with grocery delivery services. Grocery delivery systems and apps have been popping up all over the East coast of the United States (like Urban Grocery in D.C. and Peapod in Connecticut, D.C., and Maryland). Even Amazon and Walmart are getting in on the action—both have or are in the process of developing their own delivery systems.

Instacart is a good example of a service that streamlines the process by letting users place an order for delivery from Whole Foods, Costco, and Trader Joe's and delivering it to their place within an hour. It is fast, cheap, and allows users to combine items from all three stores in one order. Instacart follows up the order placement with a call from one of the brand's personal shoppers.

If you decide to develop a grocery shopping app you should remember why users use them :

  1. Users want to cut down on impulsive buys and plan their family budget in a more efficient way.
  2. Users want to minimise your time at the store but get all the food they need.
  3. Users are looking for a bargain and want to always keep up with new coupons and discount programs at their favourite grocery stores.

A grocery shopping app that combines those functions with a user-friendly interface has a good chance of competing with other grocery shopping apps.

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