Safeway's New App Reinvents Shopping Experience

Last week, as I was walking through my local Safeway, a louder-than-usual announcement came over the internal sound system, informing shoppers of the new Safeway app. I downloaded it immediately using the store’s WiFi, but didn’t know which e-mail address was tied to my phone number. So I had to wait until I got home to explore.

Sign-up for the service required the web (unless you are new to the Safeway rewards program, and then you can sign-up on the app). I linked a new e-mail address to my phone, registered on the web and started browsing.

Here’s the basic concept. You load your rewards cards with coupons. No need for paper coupons from the store (this does not yet work with manufacturer’s coupons). You can also see all of the “card” specials that don’t require coupons, along with a new set of discounts, based on your buying habits. These are called “personalized deals.”

The interface is simple. Browse through the entire list, or through categories. When something catches your eye, load it to your card.

You can then take the extra step of building a list of coupon, Club specials and personalized deals. If you create the list on the web, it synchronizes with the iPhone app. You can also create it directly on the iPhone or iPad (not a native iPad app yet). You can also add items to the list that aren’t on special.

So yesterday my coupon-oriented retail experienced changed. I went to the store with just my iPhone. As I picked up my items, I checked them off the list.

At check-out time, I signed in at the register and when the transaction was completed, my new receipt showed the savings.

As a geek, I jumped right in to this new retail offer. I could, however, hear some Q&A going on around me, and a young man was running around the store with an iPad strapped to his hand trying to sell the app to customers. If you still write a check for your groceries, this probably isn’t the app for you.

For those who are iPhone-enabled, I think the Safeway app offers a good cost/benefit example for technology. Eventually, the store can stop printing ads. Sure, that may take a decade, but it’s probably on their to-do list. I no longer have to wait for sales papers, and I don’t have to worry about clipping coupons or expiration dates. The retail experience is enhanced by having my retailer provide a valuable service and a smoother exit from the store.

After using the app, though I do have four suggestions for improvements:

  • Since the coupons are linked to a particular store, roughly arrange the order of the coupons to the aisles of the store.
  • Make sure the lowest price is shown in the app. I had a “personal deal” for whole chicken at $1.29. It was on my list. At the store, the price was 88¢. The register calculated the discount, but it could be confusing price disparities appear. I’m sure some people will want to spend time talking to the checker to make sure the discounts are right. That will add time.
  • Partner with major manufacturers to include their coupons in the mix.
  • Let me track my detail purchases. My rewards summary is available, so I know when I’ve earned a fuel discount (the most important discount as gas goes over $4.25 in Washington State.) But I’d also like to see what I’ve purchased and use it to create future shopping lists (even match it to current deals) and to see where I’m spending my food dollars.

Bottom-line: The Safeway app is a worthy new entrant into the transformation of the retail experience. I look forward to seeing it continue to improve, and in the meantime, I look forward to all the time I won’t be spending looking at items I don’t need, or cutting coupons from the center of a big sheet of newsprint.

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Daniel W. Rasmus is the Founder and Principal Analyst at <a href="http://www.seriousinsights.net/">Serious Insights</a>. Rasmus is the author of <i>Listening to the Future</i> and <i>Management by Design</i>. Rasmus is a member of the Pinchot University faculty academy in Seattle, Washington, where he teaches influence and strategy.