April 27, 2011, 10:07 AM

Shopping without a signal

Diapers.com launches apps that allow consumers to buy products offline.

Lead Photo

The Diapers.com iPhone app enables consumers to shopp ofline; orders are placed when the iPhone reconnects to a wireless network.

When Quidsi Inc., parent company of Diapers.com, was considering what to offer consumers in an iPhone app, it thought about who its typical customer is, says Josh Himwich, vice president of e-commerce solutions.

“We really wanted to tie it into what our brand is all about—bringing convenience to busy moms,” he says. “Mobile is about convenience. As soon as you realize you’re out of paper towels or diapers, you don’t need to go to a laptop or computer. You can just use your iPhone.”

A key feature in the apps, which launched last week, is that they allow a consumer to select to reorder items even when they are without cell service or Wi-Fi. The app stores a consumer’s past purchases in My Lists. After she selects which items she wants to order, the app stores that information and completes the transaction after the device regains service.

“We know there are times when cell phone providers drop calls or you’re in the subway where you don’t have service,” says Himwich. “We wanted to make ourselves an e-commerce company that still worked in that situation.”

Consumers can only add items that they have purchased in the past year because having the entire catalog searchable offline made the app unmanageable, he says.

The retailer is No. 85 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and was acquired by Amazon.com Inc. last year for $500 million. For mobile commerce, it aimed to simplify the overall shopping experience. For instance, rather than use a scroll bar that a consumer can use to select the quantity of an item, the retailer defaulted the majority of products to one item and placed a plus and minus button next to the quantity. “We think the buttons are a lot easier to use than a scroller,” he says. “And most people aren’t ordering multiple units.”

Diapers.com also devoted time to determining which of the iPhone’s pop-up keyboards was most appropriate for each screen. The iPhone displays screens with different key orientations for different tasks. In doing so it aimed to eliminate the need to click to alternative keyboard screens.

“It’s a subtle thing, but it’s all about eliminating friction,” he says.

The app also enables consumers to scan product bar codes to compare on-site and in-store prices, or to add items to their shopping carts.

The retailer, which built the apps in-house, says it will release a similar app for BeautyBar.com, its online boutique for luxury beauty products, in the next few weeks.

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