9 March 2012

Case Study: Woolworths Supermarket's new App - thinking distributed

Note, for UK readers: Australian Woolworths isn't quite the same as the now closed UK Store of the same name. Rather than a purveyor of cheap crap, its a supermarket and one that heads more towards quality then affordability (not that its expensive, you understand), but its Veg is better than any of the supermarkets that I've found in my 8 weeks of being here.

Woolies recently launched their new smart phone ap, and in doing so revealed their understanding of the post-internet consumer and demonstrate their ability to re-imagine their business not just as a supermarket but as a key part of the eating experience, as a platform upon which meals are built.

Check out the promo video before I share some thoughts...

The app is built around the promise of you doing your shopping when you want, and about making it easier for you to interact with their physical stores should you opt to go into them. Or, if thinking about things from the perspective of Jeff Jarvis' rules outline in his book What Would Google Do, then they are seeking to tick off the following boxes:
- Think Distributed (find ways to go to your customers, rather than make them come to you)
- Get out the way (make things as simple for customers as possible)
- Speed is Key (the internet and Google search has made customers want things NOW!)

They understand that, for example, after finishing work you might be sat on the tram, thinking about dinner. You can use this journey time to choose a recipe for dinner and create an aisle based list for your local store so you can hop of the tram, quickly dash in, grab your stuff and go home and cook it. Woolies are aiming to save you time, make your life easier. Or they understand that you aren't always at home on the computer when you want to order your shopping online. You might want to build your shopping list over 5 days as you use things, plan events, run out of things or just have ideas. Its about providing organization to the process of food shopping, to make it easier for you, the individual, to buy what you want to eat.

Why is this interesting?
Because, in Jarvis' words, "atoms are a drag". Because the internet has changed the way people interact and behave, and even think, and whilst online business have been quick to adapt to this and serve the Customer 2.0, the physical world is lacking. Because atoms, or "stuff" gets in the way. Things like stock cost, buildings, rent, staff, inventory, waste, warehousing, dead stock and many more. The lessons from the digital world have to filter into the physical world for it to keep up, and for shoppers to continue to use physical stores. There is no escaping it. But figuring out how to do it is hard. Not least because most physical stores and businesses are run by the old generation, brought up before the internet revolution and as such are not aware of the changing mindset of the people they sell to, even if they themselves have changed the way they shop.

Ultimately I write this post to commend Woolworths, for stepping out to embrace the consumer 2.0. Its a good sign, that physical stores can do things to become more internet friendly and more usable, less self centred.

However this app isn't perfect.
Woolworths can, and should, go further. Let customers upload their recipes to the system and review others. Make the app, and their site (which should link to it in the future if they are smart and the FAQ on their site is to be believed) into a network for people to share, to become a community and discuss, rate,  review and suggest recipes people could and should cook. Let this app become a resource and a platform, upon which other can build their business model. Let professional chefs upload content to inspire, let people build up knowledge for the collective good of everybody. Woolworths would be the bedrock of a national community of food lovers. Food is about conversation, thats what you do when you share dinner with friends or family; Woolworths should recognise this and turn their distributed platform for sales into a network for a mass of niches. It would build their brand, they would undoubtedly grow sales, but it could also open up new avenues for generating revenue further down the line, such as targeted advertising.

If theis is a first step its huge. The next ones aren't so big, there is no reason Woolworths (and others) shouldn't take it. There are huge rewards to reap. 

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