August 18, 2010, 4:27 PM

The best and worst of mobile app development

Retailers can refine their own winning mobile app strategy by studying what’s already out there.

Mark Brohan

Research Director

Lead Photo

Christopher Barcelona

Web retailers unsure of how to build a mobile app that delivers top results can learn a lot by studying the best—and worst—features of merchants that already have introduced their own apps, says Christopher Barcelona, associate director, emerging media, Resource Interactive. He will speak Oct. 12 at the Mobile Commerce Forum 2010 in a session titled “Mobile apps: The good, the bad, the …”.

To create an app that stands out for its value to customers and ability to drive multichannel sales, retailers should review the latest iPhone app from Whole Foods Market IP, which allows customers to create shopping lists, shop for food by categories such as by budget, cooking with kids, and quick & easy, and also find recipes for ingredients already in the pantry. “A mobile app has to create ongoing utility and be engaging, and the latest app from Whole Foods does that,” says Barcelona.

In this session Barcelona will examine the best and worst features of several mobile apps already created by various retailers. His objective is to show attendees how they can create or refine their own winning app development strategy by conducting more thorough market research.

During his session Barcelona will show attendees several apps he considers to be the best in their category—and highlight others that need improvement.

As an example, the newest mobile app available from Starbucks Corp. lets coffee drinkers pay for beverages on the go by setting up an account, checking their balance and reloading their account using a credit card. The Starbucks app also lets smartphone users locate Starbuck’s stores, read the menu and access nutritional and other information. “The app does what it is supposed to and that’s to build up the brand and give customers reasons to keep on using it over time,” says Barcelona.

Retailers must have a clear strategy in mind for what they want their app to accomplish. For starters, any app needs to be more than just brochureware, says Barcelona. The mobile app deployed by Abercrombie & Fitch Co., No. 65 in the Top 500 Guide, needs more utility and a richer set of features, he says. “This app only displays their online catalog and it needs additional functionality,” says Barcelona.

By looking at the existing universe of retailers and the apps they’ve already deployed, other merchants can make the best use of the three to four months often needed to roll out an app. “Any app that requires weeks of development should have a long shelf life,” says Barcelona. “It needs to have legs.”

Why the editors asked Barcelona to speak:

At consulting firm Resource Interactive, Barcelona is responsible for evaluating emerging media and new technology, including mobile apps. At Resource Interactive, he has led multiple projects including the first-ever Victoria's Secret e-commerce experience and online fashion show, a full site redesign for Walmart.com, and the development of the Reebok running site. He also speaks from direct online retailing experience from his days as director of creative marketing at American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and AE.com.

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