Here is a Q&A with Will Broome, co-founder of Ubamarket, which features in this year’s report for its work with Spar, Budgens and others.
1. How did the original idea come about?
54% of people use some form of list (paper, digital etc) when they are doing their shopping; back in 2011 I was totally fed up with struggling over really long phone texts containing a great big list of ingredients which would send you from one end of the shop to the other and back again. One day I thought to myself wouldn’t it be great if all these items jumped into the right order and told me where to go to get them in the store. That plus the fact that 82% of people have, and use, the digital notepad on their smartphone gave me the idea of creating an app to do the list and much more besides – it’s been a long journey involving a lot of development and rounds of fund raising.
2.What has been the level of take-up of the service and what are the key ways retailers are using it?
I’m not a techie, my background is PR but that is an advantage with Ubamarket. A lot of retailers have huge in-house development teams but I come to this with a customer’s viewpoint. We have an extensive app development team but Ubamarket is designed with a consumer focus. The challenge until now has been the caution from retailers over dispensing with tills in their stores. Only now do they begin to feel able to begin that journey. Spar UK’s Henderson Group is just starting to trial Ubamarket with its EDGEPoS system in units in Northern Ireland. A Londis retailer is also using the system and it is also in use at Warner Budgens (six stores located across the Cotswolds). For retailers it’s about realising that all those presentations you’ve seen on ‘The Store of the Future’ – well that store is now!
3. What about competition in this area?
Not really very much. Lots of players are wholly focused on the payments part only but there are no other end to end solutions out there from independent companies like us. Amazon Go is probably the most similar thing to Ubamarket but it’s not focused on the shopping side, more the paying. Retailers try to do this in-house but they don’t realise that it takes millions of pounds of investment and years of time before you have any kind of living, breathing version of a system.
4.How has the solution been developed/advanced over time?
Once I had the idea of the app ordering your shopping list I thought: while we’re here developing it what else could an app do that would be very useful? And then we just said let’s do absolutely everything. So Ubamarket’s app will do the scanning, navigate the store, tot up your bill, collect loyalty points, calculate the offers for you, give you allergy alerts, and finally the Holy Grail of shopping apps – lets you checkout without queuing. We are tweaking and adding all the time. Now you can share it at the push of a button and it launches automatically. And of course, the plastic sensor (featured in the Digital Retail Innovations report) is very new. It works along the same ways as the allergy alerts. Customers demanded it and then Andrew Thornton (Budgens) was interested in linking it to a loyalty system to reward people for not buying non-recyclable packaging.
5.Have there been any surprises along the way?
It’s interesting that users don’t necessarily need every aspect of the Ubamarket app – some people just use it to navigate, others only require the scan, pay and go feature while lots of older shoppers we see are using it for the loyalty card points as they often forget the physical card. The average age in one of our prototype stores is 53! One of our biggest users is a 74-year old woman who regularly does a weekly £200 shop with the app whereas the younger users might use the app 3-4 times a day.
We were also surprised by how many different variables there were between retailers in how they operate and how one bit of technology designed for one kind of system then cancels out another.
6. What can we expect from Ubamarket in the future?
Henry Ford once famously said “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses” – technology is an evolution that people need to get used to but I do think that genuinely useful tech will rise to the top while the more gimmicky stuff will sink. For us global licensing is the way forward – an app that operates without tills, without reliance on hardware and all that that entails in terms of dealing with legacy systems and maintenance etc. In terms of what the app can deliver, we have just redesigned the home page to be much more dynamic. For example, if launched it will go through the store offers – it knows in advance what the offers are. With regards to development we have a three year road map, there are endless bells and whistles that could be added, for example shopping by recipe, lots more intuitive AI and more personalisation.
7.Do you have any recommendations for entries in the next Digital Retail Innovations report?
Obviously we always have a little look at Amazon and what they’re doing. The people at Eat17 are full of innovative ideas too. But mainly I think that some of the back office people – the PoS companies are doing interesting things.
Glynn Davis, Editor, Retail Insider
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