Developing Winning iPhone Apps, Part 2 – Retailers

Oct 20, 2009
Rick Moss

By Al McClain

As discussed
, iPhone apps are being developed
with a variety of objectives. For brands, it’s sometimes about engagement
and sometimes about drawing attention to a larger marketing campaign.
But, for retailers, it’s more likely they’ll want an iPhone app to actually
SELL something. With that in mind, here’s the RetailWire take
on (courtesy of Rick Moss’ evaluation) a number of retail apps, followed
by thoughts from our recent panel discussion at the IIR Fusion conference: This
is a mobile version of their website with limited features. It
allows search and purchasing, integrates well with the user’s online account,
is simple to operate, and has a unique “Amazon remembers” feature. But,
there are almost no features unique for iPhone and search is by keyword
only. Rating – 12 out of possible 20.

Chipotle Ordering: One
can place an order, pay, and pick up from a local restaurant. This
has a simple, clear interface, but images and descriptions of food are
separated from the order process. Rating – 16

Target: Offers
local store specials and gift ideas – to be picked up at store or ordered
online. Category browsing is well organized, and the
gift finder is fun, but online ordering can only be done via the non-mobile
website and the weekly ad feature didn’t work. Rating
– 7

Gap StyleMixer: This
is a social shopping app – consumers can mix and match clothes to design
outfits, share with friends and check out what others have posted. The
social shopping aspect is fun but inventory is limited and there is no
e-commerce ordering. Rating – 10

1800flowers: A
full function ecommerce mobile version of the site. It
has good occasion-based offerings, easy ordering, and includes “guest”
ordering without the need to register. It could use
some “zip” in its presentation, though, plus social networking would be
a natural addition. Rating – 16

Whole Foods Recipes: Shoppers
can search health-oriented recipes by course, occasion and dietary preferences.
There is a good combination of search options, and dietary and nutritional
info. is included with each recipe. Only downside is a possible
emphasis of health vs. taste in recipes. Rating – 15

Dunkin’ Run: A combination
ordering and social media app, where groups combine to place an order and
a “runner” goes to the store. It has a slick design
and is an intriguing concept that could catch on with DD heavy users (no
pun intended). On the downside, the website registration
process is complex and the app seems to have more novelty than real world
practicality. Rating – 13

Macy’s Keeps America Cooking: A
12 episode video podcast series starring Tyler Florence. The
app is straight forward, with a nice series of cooking demos plus amateur
submissions. The interface could use refinement and
there are no obvious sales tie-ins. Rating – 11

Chipotle and 1800 Flowers were the highest
rated apps here, probably because of the practicality of each. Target
scored the lowest, mainly because of the lack of in-app ordering. Our
panelists at the IIR conference (Alex Muller, Phil Rubin, and Joel Warady)
had the following comments:

Joel Warady felt retailers need to provide
reasons to come back to their apps over and over, and that consumers don’t
care about your company or stores – they want information that helps THEM. Whole
Foods, he suggests, might show what’s in the hot food bar, for each store,
each day.

Phil Rubin noted that the 1800flowers app
solves a huge problem – last minute gifts on the go – and liked the Chipotle
app because it saves consumers time. He felt, however, that in general
retailer apps need to be more personalized experiences.

Alex Muller pointed out that Gap’s app is
its second and is a limited-run campaign app, so it won’t necessarily have
all the functionality you’d expect. Amazon, he believes,
would love for you to buy from their app while in a Borders or Target store
doing research. Macy’s is trying to give consumers
another reason to pay attention to them, beyond just products, hence the
cooking videos. He also noted that a strong feature
of the Target app is its ability to determine if product is available locally,
which is the number one thing mobile consumers want – often searching when
at the store.

Questions: Should retailers quickly develop apps, ready for prime-time
or not, just to get in the game? Do retailer apps need to focus mainly
on selling something or can they be used primarily for branding?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

12 Comments on "Developing Winning iPhone Apps, Part 2 – Retailers"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Doron Levy
Doron Levy
11 years 6 months ago

Apps are ever growing and won’t stop here. Retailers that are serious about reaching out to their customers must consider developing an app. Retailers should focus on apps that are a mix of entertainment and selling. A calorie counter/shopping list creator is an excellent idea for grocers. I think apps are going to get bigger. Even Blackberry has its own apps store.

This is a great opportunity for retailers to market themselves to different buying groups.

Paula Rosenblum
11 years 6 months ago

Interactive apps are also useful for taking the pulse of the customer–if the retailer has tools to aggregate the data.

There are some use cases that show incremental sales associated with–say–offering a discount to friends and family of Twitter follows…but in general, this is all about the brand. And understanding the customer’s perception of the brand.

Max Goldberg
11 years 6 months ago

Retailers need to get in the app game, with both Apple and Google/Android. If the purpose of the app is to sell, it should offer consumers an easy process to quickly get the information they need to make a purchase decision, buy, and check out. If the purpose of the app is to build the retailer’s brand, the app should be fun and creative. Finally, the retailer must let consumers know that they have apps available.

Just as when they first embraced the Internet, retailers need to support their apps with mentions on bags, sales receipts, advertising, etc. Apps, in one form or another, are here to stay. Retailers need to get in the game.

Len Lewis
Len Lewis
11 years 6 months ago

Is anyone discussing app overload? The market for iPhones is far from maximum penetration. But at some point, users get tired of being provided with content that is nothing more than a commercial. Going forward, there’s going to be a huge shakeout among developers–the same way there has been in other industries. There still needs to be a balance between self-serving promotion and real consumer benefits.

Roger Saunders
11 years 6 months ago

Just as being tied to a computer throughout the day, working e-mail, missing out on social contact with others, altering body movements/visual looks, etc, can lead to BOREDOM, having an excess number of apps to consider each day, could lead to a turnoff of the consumer.

Make the message fun, entertaining, and stimulating, or the consumer will quickly shift away.

Carol Spieckerman
11 years 6 months ago

Retailers (and consultants, and restaurants and…) should ensure the iPhone compatibility of their websites before venturing into gee whiz apps. When I’m ready to Net buy on the fly, I don’t think “I wonder if there’s an app for that?” I go straight to the company’s site. When I find a completely unnavigable mess, I ditch. Baby steps, baby steps….

Gene Detroyer
11 years 6 months ago

I see how my 20-something students use their iPhones and alternatives. They are tools. They are not toys. They are part of their everyday lives. They are not a whim. Even when sitting in front of their computers, they will use certain apps to get quick answers.

A retailer’s app that is developed just “to get in the game” is a waste of time and expense. If the retailer is deciding to make a decision on building a brand app or a selling app, they are making a mistake. The retailers must make their apps a tool for the user. That may very well build brand exposure or sell product, but if it is self-serving and not a useful tool, it will be among the 75,000 apps that will rarely be used.

Herb Sorensen
11 years 6 months ago
These apps are part of what I refer to as the second retail revolution. The first happened 100 years ago when self-service assumed such a large role in retailing. Self-service literally means, sell yourself. The fact is that personal selling disappeared, largely, from the retail space, with the advent of self-service–and to the extent that self-service dominates any particular class of trade. There are ways to introduce “personal” selling back into retail without all the technology but the technology will ultimately lead to the total “Amazonification” of retail. That is, the “personal” selling done by Amazon online, will show up in the retail space with shoppers carrying their own personal online devices into the stores. This will totally blur the line between online and offline retailing. But, more importantly, it will give every seller potential access to the shopper both inside and outside the store. I’ll comment further on the implications of brands (as well as retailers) being able to have a conversation with THEIR customers, inside stores, without any mediation or interference from the… Read more »
Jeff Weidauer
Jeff Weidauer
11 years 6 months ago
Apps are everywhere, which is both good and bad. Good because there’s lot of interest from consumers, brands and retailers; bad because we don’t yet know where this is going to lead, and just jumping on the bandwagon isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. A poor execution now could close the door to future attempts. Retail apps make a lot of sense, as long as they add value to the shopper’s life. Don’t assume that just having an app puts you in the game. As with most technology, we often get lost in the “what,” and forget the “why.” How will this app help my shopper? What value does it add? Once the novelty wears off, is this useful in the real world? Beyond that, there’s the whole question–for another day–of whether an app is right. Sure, the iPhone is hot, but what about Blackberry, Palm, and so on? Why not a mobile-enabled website that connects me to what I can do online at my desk, or on any other platform? Bottom line: we… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
11 years 6 months ago

At the moment the big differentiator is whether a retailer has an mobile app or not. However, that will change; retail apps will be ubiquitous and the differentiator will become the quality and functionality of the app. Do consumers really like it and use it?

Remember when everyone rushed to develop a website just to say they had a website?

As far as branding versus sales, I think it depends on your objectives, your category and your brand positioning. Both are achievable through the use of mobile applications. Too often, new technology gets played with outside the context of the overarching marketing and branding plan. They need to be integrated from the start.

I think the best thing for all retailers to do is listen to, learn, and benchmark the successes and failures of other companies venturing into the mobile market. Develop a solid position on how mobile can support your business objectives and then do it right.

John Bajorek
John Bajorek
11 years 6 months ago

Retailers need to have a sound digital strategy before they create a “me-too” app for mobile consumers. Just as in the early days of the web, there are daily improvements with functionality and mobile commerce that are raising consumers’ expectations of what a branded app can provide. Whether the app is only for branding or can actually enable commerce depends on the category and the consumer’s comfort and desire for the transaction.

In the end, both types of apps should be judged by their contributions to the bottom line. A rush to market without a clear consumer benefit will be a detriment to any brand.

Shilpa Rao
11 years 6 months ago

It does not take a mammoth investment for a retailer who has already established an online presence to develop an app for mobile devices. But just as Gene Detroyer pointed out, if the attitude is just about getting into the game, it would probably end up to be one of those 75,000 applications which are never used.

Just as retailers have striven to make their online presence successful, they need to replicate a similar model on mobile devices, keeping in mind the complexities of a smaller device and the connection it makes with the customer.

After the dotcom doom in 2000, businesses understood that it’s not just about having a website out there; it needs to have more meat–a strong back-end business process, a strong supply chain, and a sustainable business model. Much in a similar way, retailers now need to innovate for their smart phone presence, explore new ways of delivery, explore new business models and how the retail brand could be a part of the customer’s everyday life.


Take Our Instant Poll

Are retailer apps better used for selling or branding?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...