October 13, 2010, 11:30 AM

Speakers call out winners and works in progress among mobile apps

Amazon, Best Buy and Target apps stand out for simplicity and convenience, experts say.

Lead Photo

Julie Ask (from left), Tom Nawara and Christopher Barcelona during the panel discussion

Of the boatload of apps now available to mobile users, the winners–those that consumers not only download but use–share common features including convenience, simplicity, and contextual relevance, a panel of speakers told attendees at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Commerce Forum 2010 in Chicago on Tuesday.

The session  “Mobile apps: The good, the bad….,” highlighted the characteristics that distinguish successful apps in the view of speakers Julie Ask, vice president  and research director, Forrester Research Inc.; Tom Nawara, managing director, digital strategy and design, Acquity Group; and Christopher Barcelona, associate director, emerging media, Resource Interactive. The speakers also offered examples of mobile apps they said could be improved.

Ask cited the Snap Tell app of Amazon.com, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500, praising the simplicity of the execution that allows consumers to take a photo of a DVD cover with a mobile phone, or to use the phone to scan a bar code on a store shelf, to instantly retrieve price comparisons, reviews and other content about that title. By contrast, the mobile app of luxury band Gucci missed some opportunities, Ask said, for example by giving the shopper the location of the nearest store but not providing store hours, product inventory status or letting the mobile consumer make a purchase on her phone.

Tom Nawara singled out the mobile app of Best Buy, No. 10 in the Internet Retailer Top 500, for extensive functionality, including its display of daily deals, the ability to add to cart and to check out. He also cited convenience features such as an “idea gifter” that allows mobile users to quickly filter gift suggestions by recipient type as well as the ability to scan two-dimensional bar codes known as QR codes, enabling shoppers to compare prices between what’s on a store’s shelves and what’s available on the web.

“From a value perspective, you can shop, you can sign in and you can create an account,” Nawara added.

By comparison, he noted more limited functionality in J.C. Penney’s mobile app, which does not offer the ability to shop. J.C. Penny is No. 16 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Barcelona praised Target’s mobile web site for a rich feature set including access to customer reviews, and the ability to find, get directions to and see hours for the nearest Target store. The app also allows consumers to e-mail or text product information to themselves for later use.  Mobile shoppers also can opt in to receive text messages about deals and promotions and to obtain mobile coupons to show in-store for purchase.

“It does a great job of giving me all the decision support information I need,” Barcelona said. Target is No. 21 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Barcelona also pointed out some missed opportunities on the mobile app of retailer of Abercrombie & Fitch, No. 65 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. For example, app users who hit the Shop button are taken to the full version of the site, not yet optimized for mobile, which presents some viewing issues for the consumer. “Abercrombie is a very experiential brand,” he added. “It’s a missed opportunity that the mobile experience doesn’t take better advantage of that.” 

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