August 16, 2011, 4:05 PM

Form combines with function and fun in mobile app development

Getting into customers’ minds is key for a great app, says an MCF speaker.

Lead Photo

Tim Katz

Building a mobile app that’s functional but also fun and exciting for shoppers begins with retailers knowing who their best customers are and how those consumers use their mobile devices, says Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. senior online operations manager Tim Katz.

Having plenty of data available from web analytics logs and customer service databases helps the online apparel retailer to make better decisions about design and functionality, says Katz, who will speak at Mobile Commerce Forum 2011 in Houston Oct. 11 from 2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. in a session entitled “Creating the mobile app consumers want to use..

During the session, attendees will learn about the homework needed to develop a good app. “An app is not cheap to build and we spent a lot of time looking at where the traffic would come from and how shoppers would use the app,” says Katz. “We now have a mobile app that is tripling its monthly growth rate because we had the data to back up what we wanted to build.”

The research found that Pacific Sunwear’s core shoppers, men and women between the ages of 18 to 24, were mainly on iPhones and used their devices and the mobile web to comparison shop and share product information with family and friends.

In May, using technology from mobile commerce platform developer Useablenet Inc., Pacific Sunwear, No. 255 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, launched an iPhone app with a two-dimensional bar code reader for a type of 2-D code known as Quick Response, or QR. 2-D bar codes, which appear as small squares with a design within, can enable the consumer to link to the mobile web, unlike conventional 1-D bar codes.

Customers can use the QR code reader built into Pacific Sunwear’s app to scan codes that link to product information and videos. PacSun has placed QR codes in the windows of its 800 stores, connecting customers to a mobile web-based promotion for a new band, The Naked and Famous; shoppers get a code to redeem for a free music download. “We’re using the app to create better customer connectivity,” says Katz.

To make an app that’s both functional and fun for shoppers to download and use on a frequent basis, retailers should have a realistic and well researched plan. “My advice to everyone is don’t be afraid to keep it simple, but develop an app the shoppers really wants to keep on using,” says Katz. “It all begins with what the data is telling you.”

Internet Retailer’s editors asked Katz to speak because of his diverse background in e-commerce and mobile commerce development. He oversees daily e-commerce operations and technical direction for Pacific Sunwear, a specialty retailer that focuses on the California lifestyle. He has a background in graphic design and web development as well as marketing and advertising.

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