May 26, 2011, 12:16 PM

PacSun unveils an iPhone app with plenty of powerful features

The retailer’s app includes an outfit builder, 2-D bar codes and GPS push notices.

Lead Photo

The retailer's new iPhone app currently is highlighting its swimwear line and offers an outfit builder where customers can piece together apparel and acessories to see what an outfit will look like from head to toe.

Most retailers that build a mobile app enable shoppers to browse, search and buy products in a setting far richer than can be provided in an m-commerce site. Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., also known as PacSun, has done just that. But it has done more, adding powerful features and functionality that greatly enhance the mobile commerce experience, the kind that many mobile experts say help keep customers coming back for more.

The outfit builder in the app, built by Usablenet Inc., lets shoppers collect apparel and accessories from throughout the store in one place to piece together an outfit and see what the items look like together from head to toe.

“It makes sense with our demographic, the 18-24 space. And it adds an increased level of interactivity and excitement around the swim season,” says Tim Katz, senior online operations manager at PacSun. “Customers can choose different tops and bottoms and matching accessories and save it in our outfit builder to refer to it later. They can use it as part of their wish list or share it on Facebook or e-mail to a friend, which helps increase mindshare.”

Katz adds that the merchant will be building a special outfit builder in the app for the back-to-school season.

The application also includes a two-dimensional bar code reader for a type of 2-D codes known as Quick Response, or QR. 2-D bar codes, which appear as small squares with a design within, can contain much more information and link to the mobile web, unlike their 1-D counterparts. The common Universal Product Code, or UPC, is an example of a 1-D bar code, which appears as a horizontal string of vertical lines.

Customers can use the built-in QR code reader to scan codes that link them automatically to web content such as additional product information and videos. PacSun has placed QR codes in the windows of its 800 stores that connect customers to a mobile web-based promotion for a new band, The Naked and Famous, that gives customers a code to redeem for a free music download. PacSun has also placed QR codes in print advertisements and on store displays advertising new swimwear styles and linking to videos on YouTube that explain the qualities of high-end board-shorts.

Katz says integrating QR code scanning into the app was easy because the retailer used a free, open source 2-D bar code scanner called ZBar. Open source code, as opposed to a proprietary system, made it simpler to manage, he explains.

And PacSun has included in the app push notifications triggered by the iPhone’s GPS technology. A push notification displays a window with a message on the smartphone screen whether or not the app is open. It also may activate a sound. PacSun is using in-app push messages and plans to take advantage of phones’ GPS capability to send out special discount and other promotions when a shopper is near a PacSun store. It uses a push system from vendor Xtify, which gives retailers a dashboard, similar to that used in e-mail marketingthat lets merchants create and schedule notifications and target them by geography.

“We’ve been doing text messaging and location-based services with Foursquare and we thought location-based push notifications were an innovative way to engage with our customers through the app,” Katz says. “Xtify does the specific geofencing and geotargeting; we have all of our store locations and coordinates within the app, and using the GPS we can detect and push you notifications when you’re near a store. We can offer a percent off or a music video; the possibilities are really endless.”

PacSun is betting big on mobile commerce by deploying mobile marketing in virtually all its forms: a mobile site, an app, text messaging, location-based services and 2-D bar code scanning. It says mobile traffic accounts for under 10% of total traffic and is growing rapidly.

“M-commerce is the future of e-commerce,” Katz says. “Customers live and breathe their daily lives on their smartphones. So this is all about providing the best experience possible for whatever device they are on.”

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