iPad Retail Apps: Don't Say You Want a Revolution

Last Updated May 3, 2010 7:25 PM EDT

ipad apps with handsSteve Jobs has good reason to declare the iPad a "magical product" given how Apple (APPL) sold one million devices in just 28 days -- less than half the time it took to achieve the milestone with iPhone. However retailers have been slow to hitch their wagons to the magic and develop apps in this initial rollout, despite industry experts touting their potential to revolutionize the retail experience. That's probably a good thing, as pushing an app into a crowded landscape is far harder than you might think.

Larry Pluimer, an e-commerce and digital marketing consultant (and former exec at a major online retailer), told me that while developing an iPad app makes sense for a retailer, he believes app fatigue is coming. Citing the current lack of a folder system that makes apps easy to organize, Pluimer says, "They used to be a novelty, but most users will settle into a routine of having just a few practical apps."

That's why while he believes retailers and brands need to maintain customer relations on whatever platform a customer chooses -- Pluimer recommends those apps be developed with an eye towards suitability for the iPad (think don't expect the customer to lug a 1.5 pound device to a store the way they'd tote a mobile) and practicality for heavy use.

Here are some examples of early hits and misses.

Home Run:

The Gap (GPS) is one of the first brands to launch an app that's both user-friendly and multi-functional. Dubbed the 1969 Stream, it was created by AKQA and allows the customer to experience and share a variety of content in addition to look books of the various items that include videos from designers (think Jay Sario, Project Runway finalist, talking denim), musicians and celebrities. There's a store geo-locator for shopping on the go, too. That's a smart build on Gap's offering of exclusive-to-mobile discounts which the retailer's been issuing since December as a way to get customers buying -- buy brick or by click. (One 30 percent off deal was tweeted by my local store and all I had to do was flash the clerk the coupon on my phone's display to take advantage of the discount).

Single:

eBay's (EBAY) iPad app is designed to "mimic an interactive window shopping experience" which means that items are featured boldly front and center of the display where they're more likely to grab the eye of customers relaxing and surfing the Web. The app was also designed with an eye to help eBay reach its goal of doubling its mobile gross merchandising volume (the dollar value of transactions, before eBay's cut) to $1.5 billion. I'm thinking it's going to take more than big pictures (ie: some interactive content like Gap's) to get customers to click and bid instead of just click to the next item.

Swing and a Miss:

Pottery Barn (WSM) enlisted Pixel Mags, a major vendor for magazine publishers with over 100 apps in the iTunes store, to bring its brand to the iPad. Unfortunately Pottery Barn stopped at duplicating its catalog. There is nothing innovative or interesting about turning the pages of a catalog on a small screen. And according to the Talking New Media Blog, even that functionality is "a mess." Looks like it's back to the drawing board for team Pottery Barn. Image via Flickr user ArabCrunch CC 2.0