August 9, 2011, 3:10 PM

Learning from disappointment leads to better app development

A hands-on approach will help retailers build a winning app, says an MCF speaker.

Lead Photo

Justin Johnson will speak at Internet Retailer's upcoming Mobile Commerce Forum.

When it comes to building an app that shoppers find interesting and likely to keep on using, practice makes perfect, says Sierra Trading Post Inc. web marketing manager Justin Johnson.

There’s also no harm in disappointment, trial and error or even failure—if a retailer is willing to learn from their mistakes and use the experience to build a better app the next time around, says Johnson, who will speak at Mobile Commerce Forum 2011 in Houston Oct. 10 during the mobile marketing workshop in a session entitled “If you build the app, you have to do something to make them come.

At Sierra Trading Post, No. 88 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide the direct marketer worked with undisclosed third party developers in 2010 to build an iPhone and iPad app that gave shoppers access to an extensive product catalog. While the effort made Sierra Trading Post an early adopter of mobile app technology, the initial response from shoppers was lackluster.

“Our initial experiments with apps did not achieve much in the way of response in part because mobile was still fairly new and we were reluctant to fully commit to it,” says Johnson. “We worked with third-party providers in several cases that helped us get a mobile experience to market more quickly, but these solutions were not a great fit for our products and the branding was inconsistent. I feel like they didn’t build customer trust and our control over the experience was limited.”

At the same time Sierra Trading Post was outsourcing its app development, the company was also building an extensive mobile commerce site in-house that today features enhanced product search, streamlined navigation and a straightforward layout. More important, developing a mobile commerce site internally also gave Sierra Trading Post the experience and confidence to build and launch a better app. “Our initial apps received a lukewarm response, but our mobile site has been really well received,” says Johnson. “The ironic thing is that we came close to canning the mobile site project early in the process. Instead we stuck it out and ended up with a product our customers really respond to. We are taking what we learned and applying it to native app development right now.”

During the session, Johnson will go into detail about how Sierra Trading Post built a better app and share with attendees how a new app has resulted in better understanding of the company’s mobile shoppers. But conference attendees will have to attend the work shop to learn more.

“I’ll be discussing more about how we have marketed our mobile site and what additional marketing techniques can be applied to both sites and apps to keep your brand in customers’ mind,” says Johnson. “We made two to three changes to our mobile site that enormously impacted our customer response, but everyone will have to wait until the conference to find out what we discovered and the impact it had.”

Internet Retailer’s editors asked Johnson to speak because he is a diversified e-commerce and mobile commerce executive with technical and marketing expertise. Johnson has managed the affiliate marketing, e-mail marketing and natural search program for Sierra Trading Post and managed the web marketing department as a whole. While in marketing, he developed several microsites and applications, and contributed to a variety of projects including the development of a social marketing platform. In early 2011, Justin transitioned from marketing to web and app development full-time.

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