Private equity firm Apollo Global Management will take Rackspace private in the all-cash deal.
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The JTV app, built in-house, showcases a live, high-definition feed of the TV channel. That was the top priority in building the app because shoppers are no longer tethered to their living room TVs, says Tim Engle, chief strategy officer at Jewelry Television.
"If you like a JTV show and you want to watch the show while you're waiting in the airport or in line somewhere, you can do that," Engle says. "We show the product, demonstrate the product, talk about it; we didn't want to lose that allure, and that's why live video is an important part of the app. It sets us apart."
JTV's app also includes an educational feature called the Gemopedia, which is divided into seven sections such as Color, Family, A to Z, and Month. This is designed to attract consumers interested in gemstones and give them the confidence to make a purchase.
"We have videos of our buyers around the world buying stones and jewelry," Engle says. "Customers watch videos of buyers in Bangkok purchasing the stones. A more educated customer is more comfortable with purchasing. Next to the high-quality video stream, education was the No. 2 thing we wanted to make sure we did a good job at in the app."
Just the right size
JTV also wanted something cool, and came up with a feature in the app that lets a shopper determine her ring size.
"You can take your ring off, put it on the smartphone screen and size it," Engle says. "That gives the customer a tool to be able to make an order. If they don't know the size they may be hesitant to make an order."
The app cost JTV about $250,000 in staff time. Engle says the company has more than recouped its investment because 15% of its web sales come through the app. JTV reached $101 million in web sales in 2011, according to Internet Retailer estimates.
JTV's commitment to promoting the mobile commerce app has been critical to its success, Engle says. "We took this cool thing and talked about it on-air, sent e-mails about it, put an ad on the web site—we are serious about it," Engle says. "It was not about one guy in I.T., it was a collaborative effort from senior executives down to web development guys. When you have that commitment, you can get our numbers."
Buy.com doesn't have a TV channel like JTV, but it does have a web show: BuyTV. It highlights within its smartphone app an episode library. The idea is to entertain customers while making it easier for those in the mobile realm to learn about products, Luthi says.
"We use BuyTV to differentiate ourselves by having weekly hosted shows as well as tutorials and video descriptions," Luthi says. While easy-to-use search was Buy.com's top priority in building its app, that's not the only thing that makes the app valuable, he says. "It's also about research and content and entertainment, and BuyTV really fits that model of providing a more personal touch to getting information on a product and certainly a more entertaining aspect to shopping. 10% of the people using our app are also watching a video."
While videos keep app users coming back for more, so, too, does a giant countdown clock on the app's home screen, Luthi says. This is an important feature of the app as it pulls consumers into the deals of the day.
"It differentiates us while creating a sense of urgency when you open the app and see the deal and see there is a time limit," Luthi says. "It also creates a desire in the customer to come back tomorrow and see what the new deal is."
Consumers have downloaded the Buy.com app 250,000 times and it accounts for 190,000 monthly unique visitors, the company reports.
The results show the cool and useful features of the Buy.com, Jewelry Television and University Co-op apps bring customers back to the apps for more information, entertainment and shopping. But all three warn other retailers that cool is not always the right choice.
"Don't try to create something that is different from what your customer expects to see," says Engle of JTV. "You need to create a friendliness across channels. If we had not done a live feed in the app that would have been a disconnect from our brand. If we didn't do education, that would have been a disconnect with what we're trying to accomplish."
Luthi of Buy.com agrees, saying it's critical for a retailer to understand its customers and how they behave.
"Whether you are a bricks-and-mortar retailer or a pure-play, you have to understand how that app is going to be used and what information your customer is looking for," Luthi says. "You can build a great app with a lot of bells and whistles that ultimately doesn't get used because it doesn't meet customers' needs."
In short, maintaining a balance between cool and practical is key. Retailers that achieve that balance are reaping handsome dividends from their smartphone apps.