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Shoppers want mobile tools to improve food retail: study

The integration of mobile technologies into food retailers’ in-store experiences can have an impact on purchase intent, according to a Latitude study.

The report, titled “The Interactive Future of Food,” asked participants to share information about their shopping experiences and recommendations to improve food retail. 30 percent suggested mobile solutions to provide more in-depth information about food products.

“We already know that people want to improve their decisions around food; what this study tells us is that having access to information in real-time – at those critical decision-making moments – is often the missing link between intent and action,” said Neela Sakaria, vice president of Latitude, Boston. “Mobile technology isn’t just about communicating, socializing or entertaining ourselves when we have down-time.

“It’s truly evolving into an empowering resource for ‘offline’ life,’” she said.

Latitude is a consulting firm that researches how new information and communications technologies can be used to improve consumer experiences.

Latitude collected qualitative data from nearly 100 participants for the study, questioning them about shopping experiences and ways to improve the purchase of food.

Study results
Fifty-six percent of study participants said that they wanted more product information, such as food origins, farming practices, ingredients and food-safety details, from retailers.

Meanwhile, 31 percent of respondents asked for logistical information, such as price, inventory status and a better way to locate items in the store.

Of the three in 10 respondents who suggested a mobile answer to food retail shortcomings, 43 percent asked specifically for smartphone applications that could provide more detailed information about food.

And, 16 percent of participants asked specifically for mobile barcode scanning technologies, including QR codes, and RFID tags or sensors as a means for improving the shopping experience.

Latitude noted that the mobile enthusiasm was not limited to early-adopters.

“We were surprised to find that people’s desire – which is quickly becoming an expectation – for this real-time information empowerment wasn’t limited to current smartphone users or to younger generations,” Ms. Sakaria said. “Regardless of the type of information desired, study participants were equally likely to suggest a mobile phone solution.

“High expectations about what mobile can and should do have expanded beyond early adopters,” she said.

Specific mobile offerings that respondents suggested include digital inventories and maps of stores accessible via mobile, as well as augmented reality tools that would let consumers compare prices simply by holding their handhelds in front of items.

Recommendations for food retailers
Examples abound of food retailers who have integrated mobile technologies to reach consumers with value propositions such as mobile coupons and rewards programs.

Less of an effort has been made to provide health information using mobile technology.

Some third party mobile applications have already attempted to help consumers make healthier food buying decisions, such as the Shop to Lose iPhone application (see story).

Still, food retailers need to be more proactive in offering that information directly to consumers via mobile, according to Latitude.

Whole Foods and select other retailers have gotten into mobile apps, but we’re still in a space where much of this is being solved not by the retailers, but by independent developers,” Ms. Sakaria said. “Information is largely disconnected from the context of offline experiences and real-time information needs.

“Context and individual relevance are key to these types of information solutions,” she said

Food retailers looking to integrate mobile should tailor the experience to their own particular store contexts.

“Pardon the pun, but be organic about it,” Ms. Sakaria said. “Look at what people are doing in the store, what the gaps are between their desires and their actions, and architect tools with those in mind.

“Don’t add bells and whistles for the sake of novelty; this is about adding real value to people’s everyday experiences,” she said. “Build partnerships with others who can help connect the dots for users—with suppliers, media and information sources, technology companies, etcetera.”

Retailers who do offer mobile solutions to food shopping shortcomings could create a more positive shopping experience, and win over customers in the process.

“These emergent technologies will give retailers the ability to build a more intelligent, enjoyable store experience and, ultimately, build stronger relationships with their communities,” Ms. Sakaria said. “This is a shift which turns the food-seller into a helpful service provider, and the store into a positive experience rather than just a frustrating maze of products.

“Interacting with the provided technologies must be seamless and easy,” she said. “[Food sellers] needs to focus first and foremost on adding value.

“Then people will use them, appreciate them, and keep coming back.”

Final Take
Peter Finocchiaro, editorial assistant at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York