Apps that help in-store shoppers without sending them to shop online

Google released a plethora of statistics yesterday about mobile shopping during last year’s holiday shopping season in the US. Sure, more people shop online using mobile phones and tablets. That’s to be expected as tablet use replaces PCs as the home user’s screen of choice. But what I found interesting was the data connecting the online activity, via websites and apps, to in-store activity. Consumers use mobile apps to reach the store and while they are there.

To get there, Google says that 36% will look for locations and directions on their phones and 35% find hours. Once there, “the research showed that 84% of smartphone shoppers use their device while shopping in a store” and 53% compare prices and 39% look for promotional offers. Here’s what really surprised me: “one in three will use [their phone] to find the information they need rather than ask an employee.” In high-end stores this is a problem, in low-end ones this could be a benefit. When looking at several shopping apps I found that they seem to be struggling with the online/in-store balance. Most are not sure they want to help you complete an online purchase or facilitate an in store purchase, though most of the ones I’ve seen tend to prefer the former.

Gap: don't say where it isn't available, say where it is.

Gap: don’t say where it isn’t available, say where it is.

The Gap app looks like they have the basic functions right. The bottom bar has the “right” options including “shop” and “stores.” It’s when shoppers attempt to mix online and offline shopping that the app struggles. For example, the store I was at only had one shirt and I wanted to buy more of that style in the same size but different colors. The store didn’t have it so I used the app to scan the barcode. Instead of getting other locations where the item was available, I just got “the product is not available at at this time.” The store’s cashier was able to give me a list of where the item was in stock, why not the app?

Target: don't make me find a price-checker

Target: don’t make me find a price-checker

The Target app has a great feature called the find in store which provides the location of an item in any store you choose. It will also tell you if the item is in stock and if stocks are low. Yet, it won’t tell you the price of items sold only in stores. For that you have to “see store for price.” That’s also the case if you want to find the price of an item while in the store and it’s not online. The hard-to-find in-store price-check scanners will tell you, but the app won’t.

So, what would I like to in an app to support in-store shopping?

  1. Item location. This is essential in the big box retailers, where shoppers may not be familiar with the layout of a particular store and even those who are, need help finding items. Imagine this in Costco, Walmart and Home Depot. Imagine entering a list of products you need and be guided to everything without criss-crossing the store?
  2. Price checks. Do I really need to look for in-store scanning kiosks? No.
  3. Item inventory. Don’t make me run to aile D15 if it’s not in stock, and offer me inventory in nearby stores.
  4. Coupons. I have emails languishing in my mail app which I ignore every time I shop at the Gap, yet their app does nothing to remind me of special offers. Macy’s and Michael’s provide easy-access to in-store coupons.

Finally, a note on websites versus apps when in-store: not every user has the store’s specific app installed before coming to the store and not many will download it once at the store, away from wi-fi. This means that they’ll try to use the store’s website. Many websites, even in their optimized-for-mobile format tend to support online-shopping more than in-store assistance. Perhaps Google’s statistics will drive a change.


One thought on “Apps that help in-store shoppers without sending them to shop online

  1. Pingback: Groupon and the “let’s spin it out” app trend | What it all boils down to

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