How Threadless sewed up a top spot in Apple’s App Store

The apparel retailer didn’t rely on smart guesses—it flew its mobile developers to Apple’s headquarters to solicit feedback on their in-the-works project.

Bill Siwicki

The first week apparel e-retailer Threadless.com’s new shopping app appeared in the Apple App Store last month, the retailer promoted it heavily to customers, driving downloads. The second week, Apple elevated the app to a Best New App slot, and that drove what Threadless founder and CEO Jake Nickell describes as an “impressive” jump in downloads, new customers and positive user reviews during the next two weeks. “We are still featured today and are still seeing the benefits of being one of the Best New Apps, and consequently are still in the midst of gathering data on results,” he adds.

A great promotional strategy wasn’t the only reason Threadless.com was able to push its app into featured—and therefore highly coveted—spots in the App Store. After pulling the plug on its disappointing first iPhone app within six months in 2012, Nickell decided his team would find out how to succeed with Apple from the source. He sent his information technology staff members to Cupertino, CA, to personally ask Apple’s crack team of developers what they thought of the design in development.

Having access to Apple insiders is one of the perks of working with an outside developer with extensive app-building experience, in this case, Prolific Interactive, Nickell says. Normally, Apple only tells companies, via the Apple iOS Dev Center at Developer.Apple.com, what to do and what not to do to gain the approval required to be included in the app store. Apple does not tell companies how to stand out and gain a featured placement. In fact, it doesn’t even tell businesses that do get featured why they were picked.

The Prolific Interactive team made design changes suggested by Apple in the Cupertino meetings, changes that brought the Threadless.com app more in line with the clean Apple iOS 7 aesthetic (such as killing tabs with graphics in favor of tabs with colors). Then, not only did Apple speedily approve the new Threadless app, it named it a Best New App in the Lifestyle category, where shopping apps reside.

“Apple tends to showcase high-functioning, well-designed apps, and we were excited to have been categorized in that way,” Nickell says. “Our app has been successful with Apple and consumers because we had a clear understanding of the end user’s expectations and executed the design to meet those expectations. Partnering with the right development team also is imperative. Our partners at Prolific Interactive have had other successes in the App Store, and together we kept the end user in mind and stayed true to our brand in optimizing the experience for mobile.”

Apple has positioned a number of the apps created by mobile technology provider and app developer Prolific Interactive as Best New Apps. These include retail apps for popular apparel e-retailers ModCloth Inc., Rent the Runway and Threadless.com. In fact, all three are still in Best New App or subordinate featured positions today. Prolific says featured apps typically generate five times more downloads compared with periods when the same app is not in a featured position.

“Being well-versed in Apple’s requirements when creating a native app is our first step to success,” says Bobby Emamian, CEO and co-founder of Prolific Interactive. “Beyond that, we go into each project knowing what is at the heart of the brand, we’re completely in tune with the expectations and needs of the end user. We also maintain a hard line on keeping mobile first as we guide brands through strategizing and designing an app.”

Threadless is now working on a second iPhone app, focusing on custom-designed T-shirts, Nickell says. Shoppers on mobile devices account for 28% of Threadless.com’s traffic (64% of that mobile traffic stems from Apple devices) and 20% of its sales.

Read more about how to succeed in iOS app development in the upcoming April issue of Internet Retailer magazine.


Apple App Store, Bobby Emamian, iOS, Jack Nickell, m-commerce, Mobile, mobile apps, mobile commerce, Prolific Interactive, Threadless.com