To understand Unocart, the Australian grocery shopping and delivery app, you first have to understand how grocery stores work in Australia.
As Tyler Spooner, Co-Founder of the Perth-based Unocart explained to me, grocery stores in Australia are clustered together in shopping center hubs. So instead of having outlets across town, there is typically one building that holds all the different stores under one roof: Woolworth’s, Coles, Aldi, and others are right next to each other. It’s because of these close quarters that Unocart is able to work.
When you shop through Unocart’s mobile app, you start by picking a grocery store and shop as you normally do. But let’s say you chose a particular brand of milk. If that milk was on sale at a different store, Unocart alerts you to the lower price and allows you to swap it out in your virtual cart. Once you place your full order, human Unocart shoppers go to the stores, fulfill your order and deliver it to you.
Now, if this were the United States, this would be crazy. Having human shoppers drive across town to pick up a few items at Safeway, and then a few more at Ralph’s and then a few more at Whole Foods just to save a buck or two would take way too long and be way too expensive. But because the grocery stores in Australia are grouped together, a Unocart shopper there only has to walk next door.
Users can shop for about 120,000 different items via Unocart right now. However, Unocart is not plugged into the inventory systems of these grocery stores. Instead, while they are out gathering orders, Unocart shoppers also use their mobile phones to scan items and send prices back to Unocart.
When asked how retailers feel about Unocart potentially stealing away some of their sales Spooner said “Grocer reactions are fine at the moment.”
Right now, Unocart does brand-specific comparisons, meaning that if you select Brand X Whole Milk, it will look only for prices on Brand X Milk. It won’t suggest Brand Y Whole Milk, which may be the cheapest option of all. That type of item-level understanding is on the roadmap for future versions of the app.
Unocart launched ten months ago, and the company has raised $700,000 AUSD (~ USD $500,000) in seed funding. Spooner says they have roughly 13,000 users in Perth, a couple thousand more in Sydney. The company plans to go national in Australia at the start of the new year. On average, Spooner said, Unocart shoppers save 30 percent on their groceries. Unocart charges a delivery fee and also takes 20 percent of the savings Unocart delivers. So if you save $20, Unocart will take $4.
It seems like the delivery fee plus Unocart’s cut would quickly eat away a good chunk of your savings. But then again, it may be worth it since you aren’t doing any of the shopping or price comparison.
Spooner said that Unocart currently does not currently monetize the data it gets (what items are purchased when and with what, etc.) that might be useful to CPG brands or retailers, but is looking at doing so. He also said that there are opportunities for Unocart to monetize product placement and promotion within the app.
It’s hard to see how something like Unocart would work here in the U.S., given how spread out our stores are here. There are apps like Basket, which crowdsources pricing but don’t offer delivery.
Guess I’ll just need The Spoon to buy me a ticket to Australia, you know, so I can better understand automatic comparison grocery shopping down under firsthand.