Widget Wonders


MealBox, from Meijer, combines meal planners, recipes, shopping lists and coupons.

As consumers tighten their belts and look for new ways to save, retailers are stepping up to the plate with innovative ways to retain customers and keep them in their stores. Leading the pack is Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer Inc., which is enticing consumers with special offers through its interactive and engaging Web 2.0 widget tool, MealBox. (Widgets are small, interactive applications, often embedded within a Web page, whose content is used to engage the viewer. These interactive plugins, which are commonly found on sites such as Facebook and iGoogle, can feature games and news alerts.)

MealBox, designed and managed by Seattle-based Qponix, gives Web-savvy consumers an interactive way to leverage ad specials, coupons and other deals. The retailer takes it to the next level by tying these incentives to recipe suggestions and other meal-planning tools. MealBox also automatically generates a shopping list based on their choices. A customer can search for recipes, select the day the recipe will be used and print the automated shopping list for the recipe, complete with coupons. Shoppers also can create their own shopping list, and MealBox will find related coupons.

The widget resides with other icons found on www.Meijer.com . The application can also be downloaded onto a user’s desktop, iGoogle page, dropped on a blog or sent to a friend.

Since launching the widget in May, Meijer is attracting about 20,000 unique visitors per week, according to Dawn Bronkema, director of e-commerce marketing at Meijer. Meanwhile, about a third of the users spend 20 minutes or more using the widget each session and more than 5,000 consumers have installed it.

Given the state of the economy, it’s not surprising that consumers are utilizing the tool as a method to lower their grocery bills. Shoppers can also use it to plan their weekly meals, track what is on sale and, of course, get coupons.

To date, hundreds of thousands of widget-generated shopping lists have been created, Bronkema added. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of menu plans have been created and are being maintained, and several hundred thousand MealBox coupons have been redeemed.

Recently, Meijer launched the application for the iPhone. Customers can save a list of coupons on the phone and have their device scanned at the register. This is one of the first times a grocery shopping experience on the iPhone has been connected to a store.

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