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In Search of Good Retailer Shopping Apps

by Alison Chaltas , 22.10.2012

In today’s convenience-driven, on-the-go world, it is incredibly surprising how few impactful mobile apps are now available that help make shopping easy using a smartphone.  Over half of U.S. households now own a smartphone, and 43% are using their smartphones to shop, according to the latest GfK Futurebuy research (March 2012).  Yet relatively few apps are truly optimized for mobile shopping—causing much consumer frustration, and fairly low adoption rates.

Part of the challenge is that retailers are still working on getting their web pages right.  Many retailers (and manufacturers, for that matter) have learned the lesson of “brand-first” online websites and social media pages that feel too pitchy and self-serving, and have converted to “shopper-first” designs that focus on what the online shopper cares about most—finding what they’re looking for quickly, and make appropriate comparisons on not only price, but key features and benefits in an easy-to-read format.  Raw retailer ratings and comments with less filtering give online shoppers the sense that comparisons are honest and fair.  Certainly Amazon.com is the model all online retail models are aspiring to, and several retailers have made great strides to optimize online shopping for their own shopper audiences.

Yet mobile shopping apps appear to be the maligned step-child of online shopping.  The challenges of smaller screens and slower download speeds on the road, along with ever-changing technologies and platforms, make mobile shopping apps hard to develop and execute.  Many companies treat mobile shopping the same as online shopping, and under-resource mobile needs. Some retailers seem to “punt” on mobile apps entirely, simply offering their online websites in a format viewable from shoppers’ smartphones.  This puts a lot of work back on the mobile shopper.  So it comes as no surprise that users complain that retailer mobile apps are inconvenient— hard to log into, too slow to use, crashing often.

So what’s the answer? For many retailers, the best approach may be to simplify their objectives for shopper apps.  Providing “all” information on-the-go is too much for the shopper, and too much for the technology.  Retailers must strive to understand their mobile shoppers better, study their path to purchase and provide the right level of information at the right time and place to meet their specific needs.

For many retailers, “one app for all shoppers” may be too lofty an objective for mobile applications. Focus in on the critical stages of the decision process where shoppers need retailer help.  What do you carry?  A really great assortment app, highlighting exclusive offers and supported with a store locator, can bring mobile shoppers to your store.  What’s on sale this week?  Tailor your special offers to the specific needs and interest of your shoppers, and throw in an “app-exclusive” offers to reward their loyalty.  Are they in your store already?  Use GPS tracking to its convenience advantage with information and offers to help close the sale.

Helping shoppers achieve specific missions can have a huge impact for retailers. For example, Walgreens and other Drug retailers have used mobile technology to drive pharmacy loyalty and compliance—using simple apps that allow shoppers to refill their prescriptions by scanning their product via their mobile phone, and send out text alerts for refill reminders.  The apps are simple to use, and provide tremendous value to their shoppers.

The good news for today’s shopping app developers is that the bar is set pretty low.  Many mobile shoppers are willing to experiment, and few have high expectations based on what’s out there today.  By focusing on a few critical points in the shopping process, and tailoring to the shoppers’ needs with apps that are quick and easy, retailers can quickly establish a strong point of difference in this rapidly changing marketplace.