May 31, 2011, 5:21 PM

Look At Me!

With thousands of mobile apps vying for attention retailers must push to get them noticed and used.

Lead Photo

A consumer's introduction to a mobile app consists of a little bit of explanatory copy and a handful of accompanying screen shots found on the app's page in an app store. Making good use of that limited space is critical to a retailer that likely just dropped $20,000 to $200,000 creating a free mobile shopping app.

"Our copy hits on how we approach our business, which is we've got the selection, pricing and service," says Brad Wolansky, CEO of Redcats USA's The Golf Warehouse, which offers iPhone and iPad apps. "Emphasis in the description is placed on ease. Search, browse and purchase easily, and save. These descriptions really determine whether a shopper spends the time to download the app or not. Whether you live up to your promise immediately determines whether the shopper will use or delete your app."

And the screen shots are very important, as they tell the story of what the app looks like and what it offers a consumer, says Jeffrey R. Hennion, executive vice president and chief branding officer at General Nutrition Centers Inc., which offers an iPhone app. "The screenshots we picked really give a comprehensive view of the core things the app can do," he says.

Merchants shouldn't give short shrift to the mobile app description page, Hennion adds, as it is a central point in the process of promoting an app and convincing a consumer to use it.

And mobile apps need promoting in ways that mobile commerce sites don't. To discover a mobile commerce site, all a smartphone user needs to do is type the standard URL of a retailer into her mobile web browser and the retailer, if it has a mobile-optimized site, redirects her to that site. It's not that simple with a mobile app. A consumer may not know a retailer's app exists unless she goes out of her way to an app store and hunts for it.

That makes promotion key to the success of a mobile app. And retailers are learning they have to use all their marketing resources, including physical stores and catalogs if they have them, to promote apps, and keep upgrading the little pieces of shopping software to remind consumers they exist.

"A retailer definitely wants to communicate to customers that they should adopt this new service that is extremely convenient, focusing on communicating the why, what's in it for me," says Julie A. Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. who specializes in m-commerce. "If you're trying to drive adoption of any new product or service, it's about convenience. That is the hook you need to get to consumers."

The first step to successfully promoting a new mobile application is to ensure employees can check it out and understand what it offers, some experts say.

"You want to provide employees with language they can use to educate shoppers about what the app is, what it does, where it's available," says Aron Ezra, president of MacroView Labs, a mobile app developer. "After an organization launches an app, people will approach employees and say things like, 'How does the 2-D bar code reader work?' So it's important to make sure a sizable number of your employees understand just what the app is."

Ezra adds that employees themselves begin using the app and become an ad hoc focus group that can provide the retailer with valuable feedback.

Use everything

Then a retailer should use every marketing vehicle at its disposal to get the word out. A good place to begin is with promotional messages on e-commerce and m-commerce sites. These messages, retailers and m-commerce experts say, should announce the app and include a brief message about why a consumer would want it. They should also link the consumer to a page on the site that goes into detail about the app and indicates how it can be downloaded, or point her directly to the application's page in an app store.

When The Golf Warehouse launched its iPhone and iPad apps, it placed promotional boxes in prominent positions on the home page. Today it includes a promotional spot in the links section at the bottom of the home page, and the promotional ad rotates with other in-house ads.

"But copy on the apps is in every e-mail we send, every communication point; it's really become sort of boilerplate," Wolansky says. "And when I say boilerplate, I mean we have it in our YouTube channel, on our Twitter page, on our Facebook page, all over."

The merchant says that as its m-commerce stable becomes bigger, it will make promotion of its apps larger and more permanent on its home page.

"Once we get our Android and BlackBerry apps, we'll have something even more compelling to tell customers, when we're able to say, 'Whatever mobile platform you're on, we have you covered,'" says Patrick Livingston, director of e-commerce site optimization and new ventures. "We'll have something more to say on a consistent basis, to leave up there more often than we do now."

Right up front

Smartphone and iPad shoppers can't miss Jockey International Inc.'s mobile app promotion: When a mobile shopper visits Jockey.com, Jockey automatically detects the device and presents a promotion that's an overlay on top of the home page.

"We say we have an app for that, so download the free app. We emphasize that the app is a better experience than the mobile site," says Chris Smith, vice president of e-commerce, catalog and interactive at Jockey. A button on the overlay links the shopper to the page in the appropriate app store where he can download the app then and there.

E-mail marketing also plays a key role in promoting apps. Some merchants send out e-mails announcing an app, and they include copy about the app and a mobile phone icon in the boilerplate of all e-mail marketing pieces. E-mail is as effective in promoting an app as it is in marketing merchandise, experts say.

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