September 3, 2009, 12:00 AM

J.C. Penney joins a small group of retailers blazing the mobile apps trail

J.C. Penney has become No. 30 on a list of retailers that have created a downloadable mobile application for smartphones. It has launched JCPenney Weekly Deals, a mobile app for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. has become No. 30 on a list of retailers that have created a downloadable mobile application for smartphones. It has launched JCPenney Weekly Deals, a mobile app for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPod Touch.

The free app enables mobile shoppers to: browse a select group of sale items featured in the latest weekend sales circular; create a portable shopping list by saving items as Favorites; check for the latest special offers; and find the nearest store to either their current location identified via satellite or to a Zip code or city name. Weekly content updates to the app are automatic and require no action by customers. Unlike many other retail apps, J.C. Penney’s does not enable shoppers to complete a purchase. The app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store.

“With shoppers increasingly doing research before they step into a store, our new iPhone app is the latest way we are providing our customers an easier, more engaging and integrated shopping experience,” says Mike Boylson, chief marketing officer at J.C. Penney. “Furthermore, with more than 13 million iPhone users in the U.S., along with 12 million iPod Touch users who can also download apps, the launch of an iPhone app allows us to share our style, quality and affordable prices each week with a rapidly growing base of consumers.”

The JCPenney Weekly Deals iPhone app was designed to build on the company’s Know Before You Go initiative, developed based on customer research which found that a large number of customers visiting jcp.com were online for a purpose other than shopping, says the retailer, No. 15 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. An online survey of jcp.com customers showed that a significant majority of those surveyed were visiting the site to do some form of research: viewing merchandise, comparing prices, browsing sales and promotions, finding store directions, exploring ideas for fashion and home, and more.

In response to these findings, J.C. Penney added new features to its e-commerce site, including enhanced search capabilities and product information, merchandise availability at local stores, and the ability to view weekly sales circulars online. The JCPenney iPhone app will evolve as new functionality becomes available, the merchant says.

A mobile app is a tiny program downloaded from an online app store that runs on a smartphone. It links via the mobile web to a retailer’s web servers to obtain content for display within the app and, in many cases, facilitate purchase transactions. A mobile app can offer a richer, faster customer experience than a mobile commerce web site because many of the features and design elements are stored on the smartphone and thus do not have to be regularly downloaded from servers, and because an app can integrate with smartphone features such as an address book or GPS navigation to enhance functionality.

Other retailers among the 30 with mobile apps include: 1-800-Flowers.com Inc., No. 31 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; Amazon.com Inc., No. 1; BuyCD; Delight.com; Godiva Chocolatier Inc.; HSN Inc., No. 26; Sears Holdings Corp., No. 7; and Shortcovers, a division of Indigo Books & Music Inc., No. 148.

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