May 24, 2011, 4:35 PM

Two tablet apps further the evolution of print catalogs

New apps from TheFind and Padopolis seek to change the way consumers view catalogs.

Lead Photo

TheFind's Catalogue iPad app currently offers 30 catalogs; the company expects 70 more in the next two months.

Tablets are designed for consumers to view all kinds of media. And tablet makers have books and magazines top of mind, one reason the size of tablets is so close to that of books and magazines. And tablets, like Apple Inc.’s iPad, also happen to be the approximate size of a catalog, one reason why a handful of retailers have recently introduced iPad apps that present interactive versions of their print catalogs.

The concept of using tablet PCs to simultaneously enhance both the catalog and e-commerce channels is getting a big boost this week as popular comparison shopping engine TheFind debuts Catalogue, an app for Apple’s iPad and devices running Google Inc.’s Android mobile operating system. And it already has competition in the form of Catalog Spree, a catalog mobile app that launched just one month ago but already has been downloaded tens of thousands of times and is recording one million page views a week, parent company Padopolis reports.

TheFind’s Catalogue app has launched with 30 catalogs from such retailers as Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, Sephora, eBags, Stella & Dot, Sundance, Tea Collection and Uggs. TheFind anticipates adding 70 more merchants in the next two months.

“The tablet is poised to create a new type of e-commerce,” says Siva V. Kumar, CEO of TheFind. “Desktop computers are used heavily to search for products and brands. Smartphones play a supporting role for in-store shopping. On tablets, consumers are very comfortable watching video, reading magazines and e-books, and socializing with their friends. A tablet is a passive device. That’s where catalogs on tablets come in.”

TheFind takes a merchant’s product data feed, which includes product details and imagery, and recreates the catalog using its own technology. Consumers can swipe the tablet screen to move forward or backward in the catalog, touch on products to go to a full-screen product details page, then hit a Visit Store button to go to the e-commerce site, while still within the app, to purchase a product. Catalog Spree operates in the same fashion.

Some retailers with catalog apps require a user to download a catalog file, which for larger catalogs can take a couple of minutes. TheFind and Catalog Spree both host the data on their own web servers; that way, when a consumer touches the screen, a web server call is made, just like with an e-commerce site, and the information for the next page is presented almost instantly. No downloads are required. And because the catalogs are hosted and based on up-to-the-minute data feeds, merchants can make changes to prices in the tablet catalogs, something they cannot do once a paper catalog is printed.

TheFind collects a small percentage of every purchase that stems from the catalog app, the same as it does with its web site and smartphone app. It declines to reveal that figure.

“We are very excited to partner with TheFind on creating a unique tablet shopping experience that leverages our strengths in merchandising with TheFind’s demonstrated capabilities in mobile and tablet commerce,” says John Seebeck, vice president of e-commerce at Crate and Barrel. “We’re impressed with how TheFind re-imagines the catalog shopping experience for the new and promising tablet medium.”

Catalog Spree offers access to 14 merchants’ catalogs with a few dozen more on the way in the next month. Current merchants include Nordstrom, Nordstrom Lingerie, Artful Home, Hamilton Jewelers and NapaStyle. Its merchants, Padopolis says, report session times of a whopping 20 minutes and that the app is among their top five traffic sources. Like TheFind it makes money through a share of revenue, which it declines to reveal. TheFind offers merchants different fee options, but typically comparison shopping engines like TheFind take a 5-15% cut per sale, says Scot Wingo, president and CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., a technology and services provider that helps retailers work with comparison engines.

“The iPad will do to catalogs what the Kindle has done to books.” says Joaquin Ruiz, CEO and founder of Padopolis. “Amazon was founded on selling physical books through the web. In the last quarter they sold more e-books than physical books. The use-case for catalogs on tablets is completely correct. It is a casual device you can go to bed with or sit with on the couch; it is not a laptop, it is something that looks like a magazine or a catalog with the battery power and the multi-touch screen that makes the iPad a device that is more personal than the personal computer.”

Ruiz, who remarks his company focused on making the user experience for Catalog Spree “as slick and Apple-like as possible,” says tablets do not necessarily spell the death knell for catalogs; rather, they will cause the catalog channel to evolve.

“TV didn’t kill radio, it just changed the industry. The Internet didn’t kill everything else,” Ruiz observes. “There are costs associated with paper and postage and printing. If you can create more engaging content for far fewer dollars, you will affect the industry. Tablets will change the catalog industry in favor of digital distribution.”

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