One day, our descendants will look back on this time and study the intense, decades-long wars fought on Australian soil: the supermarket wars. Woolworths and Coles have been the key players, neck and neck for years, with Aldi slowly making its mark and smaller players like IGA bravely keeping up the fight. For a long time, consumers have been caught in the middle. Now technology is finally giving them the chance to fight back.
Trolley Saver is a new Australian app, currently available on iOS, that wants to make paper catalogues a thing of the past while ensuring that all consumers are getting the best deal. It works by linking a user’s shopping list with supermarket specials to show they how much they will save by shopping at specific supermarkets. Shoppers can use the app to browse specials, and set notifications for alerts on their favourited or listed products go on special.
Consumers tell the app how far they are willing to travel, and the app searches the specials database and notifies users of the related products as they put their shopping list together. When the user is ready to go shopping, the app tells the user how much they would save by going to specific or multiple retailers. The app then splits the shopping list so the user knows what items to purchase from each selected retailer.
Founder Sam Lee first came up with Trolley Saver in 2011, when he set about starting a business that would make a positive impact on all Australians.
“Everyone has to grocery shop, so I set about discovering what pain points I could solve. It wasn’t until 2014, after hundreds of shopper interviews and multiple pivots from discussions with industry experts, that development of the prototype began,” Lee said.
Lee said the app was first designed to give a ‘whole of basket’ price comparison to users so they could choose the cheapest product, while also considering convenience. However, he found this model wasn’t viable due to different prices at different locations.
“More than that, I didn’t want Trolley Saver to be involved in any ‘races to the bottom’ in terms of supermarket prices, so instead we designed it to link to specials. Supermarkets already have specials and every day low cost items, and now they have Trolley Saver as a tool to put the information in front of consumers,” Lee said.
As such, the app is aimed at both shoppers and supermarkets. While the major supermarkets have their own apps, Lee said the majority of Australian shoppers are not loyal to any one particular store, and Trolley Saver fills this gap. But rather than disrupting supermarkets themselves, Trolley Saver aims to disrupt the advertising channels used by supermarkets; that is, digital and print catalogues, and TV and radio advertisements.
“We believe Trolley Saver is the most powerful supermarket and FMCG [fast moving consumer goods] advertising channel because we put products in front of consumers when the messaging is actually relevant, not while they are watching The Block. We also put products in front of consumers based on what they want to purchase, not necessarily the stores they already frequent,” Lee said.
Lee believes Trolley Saver gives supermarkets the opportunity to put their specials in front of shoppers at four key decision making points: as they decide what to buy, before they decide where to shop, during shopping, and after shopping.
Trolley Saver launched as a prototype several months ago, hitting around 17,000 users. At this point, several issues with the app were brought up, which Lee said highlighted a key benefit of not having a tech co-founder: he was able to quickly change developers in order to launch the market-ready version in October.
Lee has had mixed results working with supermarkets. He said he has found it harder to deal with smaller retailers, a fact he finds confusing given they would have the most to gain from coming on board.
“Contrary to my initial assumptions, the large retailers are extremely open to exploring new ways of reaching customers and have shown interest in participating more than their ‘normal’ catalogue specials. The larger retailers see the value in reaching customers in a way that catalogues – digital and printed – can’t,” Lee said.
Supermarket retailers pay for their presence on the app on a capped pay-for-performance model, charged either by impressions alone or impressions and user interactions – that is, user shares or additions to a shopping list – capped at the agreed maximum amount per user. Lee is looking to extend this model to the communication of targeted campaigns, not just specials.
Lee is also looking to expand the app beyond just supermarkets to incorporate a broader range of retailers. He hopes to have 50,000 users by January, a number he thinks the app will be able to reach fairly organically.
“A large percentage of our users love the app and are sharing with friends and family. We’ve built a viral component into the app where our users can share specials that their friends and family would be interested in,” he said.
Shopping list apps are a dime a dozen, but as the supermarket wars continue to rage on, it isn’t hard to see Trolley Saver having real potential. The app is similar in theory to fellow Australian platform MyGroceries, though MyGroceries works across only Woolworths, Coles, and their associated liquor stores. As well as a wider selection of stores, Trolley Saver has a more pleasant design and UX that will appeal to younger users who throw catalogues away and simply shop where it’s more convenient.
Bringing local businesses on board also means users who like to avoid the big supermarket chains will still be able to support small businesses, while integrating coupons or rewards will also help boost the experience.
Lee has been bootstrapping the development of the app so far, and has no immediate plans to find investment. At the top of the to do list for the next 12 months is finishing the Android app, finalising a strategic partnership with a major retailer, and onboarding local small businesses.
Image: Sam Lee. Source: Supplied.