If you think I'm tough on mobile marketing and media, you should talk to my wife.
"What good is that?" is her default response to every app I think is relatively cool. Free of the gadget addiction that bedevils her husband, she is unimpressed by dazzling apps and comes at the matter from a convenience and utility perspective. Why should she ferret around in her handbag for her smartphone when out shopping unless it really is answering a specific need? When we go grocery shopping at the local Shop-Rite or Giant, I try to show her what the brands' respective mobile apps will do. Her husband plays with the in-store mobile apps because he likes the wizardry of it all, but without a compelling reason to pull out her phone, she fails to see the point.
"Do they have my shopper card in there so I don't have to bring it with me all the time?"
Well, actually, no. This is a bizarre oversight in these two apps. In fact neither actually includes a scannable code with your card or even the number. The Giant app actually seems to know your loyalty card number when you register with their Web site, but it hides the full number in the app itself.
"Okay, then. Can it tell me what that weird looking prickly fruit thing is in the produce section?"
"Can it give me some idea what I might prepare around this asparagus that is on sale?"
No. Mainly it is the Sunday circular in a mobile form. You can make a shopping list out of what is on sale but otherwise you are manually entering anything else on the mobile list.
"Uh, huh. So they just want to push their sales. Honey, why don't you take your iPhone over someplace where it might do some good, like that Redbox kiosk over there. I bet there is an app for that too and you can watch all the trailers you like. I have work to do here. We have to eat something tonight."
In fact, she is right. Unless you just want a mobilized circular, these grocery store apps seem to have no idea how we actually shop or where a mobile app might be of help. They are so obsessed with their own sales that they forget people come here to shop in order to eat. They fail to conceive of the real use case, which is people thinking in terms of meals, planning, and where the hell stuff is.
So I ask my wife what she wants these apps to do.
"Don't just tell me the asparagus is on sale. I can see that. I am here. Tell me what meal I can make around a sale item. Then make it easy for me to make a list around that item. Then, tell me where it is in the damned store." In other words, she knows exactly her process of thought in a store. She isn't asking what is on sale. She is asking what she can do with what is on sale.
"Give me some recipe ideas around what they are pushing on me. And what is the nutritional content? Not just fat and calories. Tell me what nutrients are in here and what they are good for? : "And how about linking the sales? So tell me when one sale item can be linked to another that week in a recipe so it can really save me money. Maybe they actually can start offering sales of things that do work together to make meals for us, not just sales for them. Tell me what the recipe will cost me to make, for instance." Then she gazes around the produce aisle. "Let me take a picture of what that weird-looking fruit is to tell me what it is and how it might be used. But most of all, tell me where things are in this store."
It is fascinating to me that my wife can (literally in 30 seconds) imagine functionality to a mobile app that is already several generations ahead of what these grocery stores are ready to do and what probably any of them are imagining their role is. Of course, what mobile media does is offer marketers the opportunity to think bigger and reimagine what their role in relation to the consumer might be. Mobile lets you become a companion, so what can that mean?
But whether her desires are realistic (and I don't see why they can't be deployed) the gap between her fantasy app and reality suggests the gap between retailers and consumers. For the retailer. getting you into the store and making the purchase is the end.
To my wife, consumption is just a means to an end - making a meal. When we talk about designing around use cases, we need to broaden our understanding of the case itself to understand it as part of a process. To get to the next stage of being a true companion, retail apps should not just address what consumers are shopping for, but why they are shopping at all. So I ask my wife, "Is there any mobile app that helps you shop?"
"Yes, 'Angry Birds,'" she answers. "It keeps you occupied in the store while I get this done."