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How to Design a Retail App

By John Moore for Digital Innovation Gazette

Ever-present smartphones provide retailers a vast channel to reach their consumers. Retailer apps, however, often miss the mark, offering mobile applications that are little more than repurposed websites.

StreetHawk, an Australian company, seeks to address this issue with its location-based mobile personal shopping service. Retailers can tap the company’s RRR (Right Place, Right Time, Right Person) Matching Engine to upgrade their mobile apps. StreetHawk can also set up retailers with applications that embed RRR technology. The company offers a fashion aggregation app, available via Apple’s AppStore, that lets shoppers browse store inventories and receive alerts based on saved searches for favorite items or brands.

We recently discussed retailer apps with Natasha Rawlings, StreetHawk’s founder and chief executive officer. Here, she gives her tips on optimizing the design of retail apps.

The near ubiquity of mobile devices makes it easy for consumers to compare prices. In this environment, do retailers need to offer a mobile app as a defensive measure?


Natasha Rawlings: Fifty percent of shoppers are using smartphones in-store to compare prices. But almost an equal amount read reviews and search in-store inventory, helping them to buy in-store, which is where more than 90 percent of purchases are still made.

I see smartphones as a sales enabler -- helping retailers make real-world sales. Retailers owe it to themselves to get app- and mobile-savvy because shoppers are already using them on their path to purchase.

In first-world countries, about 70 percent of shoppers are using their smartphones when shopping, so retailers need to take advantage of this trend right now, firstly to create footfall, and secondly to convert sales. Smartphone adoption rates, ever-increasing mobile usage and the fact that we are never more than 2 meters from our mobile devices every day suggest that all business -- including retail -- have to think mobile first.

StreetHawk’s website talks about retailer apps that shoppers use for a limited time and then never use again. What tend to be the fatal flaws in retailer apps?

N.R.: They have no utility and are not engaging -- ending up in the app graveyard. Mobiles are personal devices, so this is a chance for retailers to interact personally in real time with their customers, using push and other mobile communications. This means using lots of data, but it needs to aid set-and-forget marketing communication or it will just never happen.

Second, some apps spam you with irrelevant notifications. Retailers need to use the information they’ve collected on their customers to create relevant communication. Incorporating location will make these messages more powerful and likely to create footfall.

Third, they are just like a website, which makes them similar to brochureware. For the first time, retailers can harness location; why not allow shoppers to know what is in store or allow them to pay and pick up?

The retailer apps I have seen are at worst just branded videos with no call to action to buy -- in-store or other -- to pretty brochureware apps that have a few products and at least some price description. There are lots of good apps that allow you to find all the stock a retailer has and buy online, but until there is widespread adoption of digital wallets, they only give shoppers a browsing experience. Fifty percent of apps are abandoned in three uses unless they provide real utility or entertainment. We think StreetHawk provides consumers with utility as it “outboards” their shopping wish list for specific items and reminds them of products they want when they are around stores. I guess it facilitates impulse buying outside the store to create qualified footfall.

StreetHawk currently hosts data collection and some API servers on Ninefold’s cloud and plans to move additional functions in that direction. Do you have any advice for other mobile app developers who are planning to leverage cloud services?

N.R.: Developers get it, but retailers are struggling. Our mission is to bring brick-and-mortar retailers into the cloud -- many still think in old IT mindsets focused on inventory, specialized marketing campaigns, Oracle and in-house IT. But this is why e-commerce is killing them. If you are elastic, you quickly adapt and can learn from your customers’ data. The cloud powers this.

Any suggestions for developers or retailers planning to create their own mobile retail apps?

NR: At a minimum, retailers should give their shoppers the ability to find their stores with maps, provide opening hours and the ability to call stores. They also need to think about how they can harness location and the data they already have about a customer. Smartphones bring online smarts to the real world, so they can can mash together loyalty programs, customer knowledge and social programs to facilitate personalized communication to drive shoppers in-store -- not just online. Often, the mantra is “Start with something simple.” I think “simple” in the app world means certain death unless there’s absolute utility in what you’re providing.

Copyright (c) 2012 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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