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Mobile apps that mirror in-store experience tighten brand identity

October 28, 2013


As the percentage of affluent shoppers purchasing on mobile devices continues to rise, the need for well-curated digital applications that mirror the in-store experience will increase.

Bringing the responsive and immersive nature of in-store customer service to apps will help brands foster loyalty across platforms. Education paired with aspects that recreate the service found in-store will engage consumers and likely create repeat users.

"Apps that recreate the in-store experience are convenient for consumers to sample some of the store's features without leaving their sofas or needing to extend any efforts beyond the use of their thumbs on their smartphones," said Simon Buckingham, CEO of Appitalism, New York.

"Such apps don't require shopping, merely hopping, allowing the consumer to 'pop into' the store," he said.

Mobile mirrors
As the face of retail changes, luxury brands can benefit from a well-structured apps that have touch points resembling boutiques. This includes catalog-like features, educational product information and easily contacted customer service representatives, all of which can be enhanced with additional content such as videos to gaming functions.

When purchasing a high-ticketed item, consumers want to be well-versed in all details of the item. Apps allow brands to fluidly showcase brand history, product description and content of the merchandiser's origins and craftsmanship in ways that emulate a knowledgeable sales associate.

Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin created a mobile app to showcases its latest wristwatch the Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731. Vacheron used education paired with gaming and history to entertain and engage its enthusiasts.

The "Sounds of Time" app begins with a short tutorial on the intervals and tones of the watches’ hours, quarters and minute chimes. Using a game-like element the app then plays a series of chimes and asks the consumer to guess the time based off the sound of the chimes and their understanding on the tutorial (see story).

Vacheron's Sounds of Time app

Comparatively, automakers can use mobile apps to show off new models while featuring in-depth information that consumers may find valuable. An app that continuously updates to feature new content will keep consumers engaged longer than one created with a one-use, one-model structure.

German automaker Audi created an open-ended iPad app to tout brand history with a focus on its latest R8 model. The automaker’s Audi Library app allows enthusiasts to explore additional models and will be updated systematically to include more information.

Audi fans can learn about the R8’s history through information regarding other models in the R8 family, engine types, traction options and an accompanying video to highlight the model’s transmission. The inclusion of these aspects create an experience and opens up conversations similar to that of a potential buyer and an Audi dealership associate (see story).

Audi Library app

Inside, outside
Retailers can take advantage of mobile apps both within stores and without to foster engaging experiences catered to the needs of consumers. Whether inside a retail location or via mobile commerce, the in-store element should not be diminished.

For instance, Saks Fifth Avenue is replicating the in-store dressing room experience through an iPad app developed by Stylewhile. The app digitally outfits an avatar with a similar body type of the consumer.

Just as in-stores, the consumer is able to see which pieces look well together and what does not fit well to their body type. To further echo the in-store experience, the app allows consumers to mix-and-match brands just as they would if they had physically selected the items (see story).

Stylewhile avatar 

In the same way mobile enhances the consumer experience from a distance, retailers can benefit from bringing digital touch points into bricks-and-mortar locations. This tactic allows for better consumer engagement while displaying consumer behavior.

According to a Sak Fifth Avenue senior executive consistency is key when recreating the online experience in-stores. The retailer relies on search engine optimization with market-based geo-targets, in-store displays, emails, mobile push notifications and geo-fences to promote its physical stores.

This tactic creates a type of digital playground for consumers to explore just as they would if using an app or mobile-optimized Web site.

Although it sounds complicated, the strategy to mirror the digital experience can be as simple as prompting consumers to scan a product’s code to access the product’s ecommerce page and mobile content while in-stores (see story).

Additional digital content is a sure fire way to ensure consumers get the most from their experience with a retailer.

"Retailers continually strive to enhance the customer's shopping experience, and a mobile app can do just that," said Melody Adhami, president and chief operating officer of Plastic Mobile, Toronto.

"By providing customers with value-added services like additional product information, reviews, or ratings, in-store apps can help them make better purchase decisions," she said. "More advanced apps that collect customer preferences and purchase history allow retailers to create an even more customized shopping experience.

"When done right, an effective in-store app benefits both the customer and the retailer."


One barrier created by apps, for brands and retailers alike, is the lack of a share option.

"Given that a lot of shopping can and is done on a solitary basis, the fact that most apps cannot be shared doesn't necessarily limit their exposure and usefulness," Appitalism's Mr. Buckingham said.

"Smartphones are personal to each consumer and customized with their own apps, so the fact that these in-store shopping apps cannot be shared doesn't help their success, but is unlikely to condemn them to failure either."

But while mobile apps are useful to tighten brand identity, ecommerce sites still lead the way.

"Almost any feature you can develop in a mobile app can be developed at less cost for a mobile-optimized Web site," said Philippe Poutonnet, vice president of marketing at Hipcricket, Kirkland, WA.

"It can be easier and more cost effective to drive customers to a mobile website that is feature rich and can create the in-store experience at home," he said. "The level of entry to a mobile app is higher than for the mobile web.

"Customers have to spend time finding, downloading, installing and updating the application and they have to worry about the size of the app and how much storage their mobile device has but with a mobile Web site, the connection is more immediate and users can get more done faster."

Final Take
Jen King, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York