Retailers have begun to launch mobile applications, but there are many brands who haven’t done anything yet, so there’s still time to get products up to snuff, or improve what you already have. All ratings are based on apps built on the iPhone, because thus far iPhone apps represent the best versions that brands have produced (and not all companies have converted their apps to other platforms like Android). Read the full review, or reviews can be linked to individually: Amazon; Best Buy; Home Depot; Target; and Wal-Mart.
Overview: It should not be much of a surprise that Amazon gets it right. The “Search” is the best part of this app and it is located right up front. Just try typing something in and the results are both comprehensive and fast. Amazon is pushing the Kindle and its accessories on the Home page (2 out of 3 spots), but after logging in, the main Kindle promotion is replaced with more personalized recommendations. Where the Amazon app does fall flat is with general categories. The Amazon website lets you easily and immediately link to areas of interest like Books, Electronics, Home & Garden, Sports & Outdoors, etc. Why not create a similar shopping experience for the mobile app? Doing so would immediately expand the inventory that customers can see and make it much easier to navigate. Purchasing through the app could also be more streamlined and consistent. Sometimes the "Buy" button is on the product page where it should be, but other times it’s harder to find. Some pages have an “Add To Cart” button while others don’t. Some products make you click on “Model” (even if there is only 1 choice) or “Product Packaging,” which then offers choices like “Frustration Free” as if users are expected to know what that means. Eventually you get what you want and the inconsistencies are minor and relatively few considering the sheer number of products and retailers that make up the Amazon universe. The checkout is clean and easy and overall this app is very well done.
Nicest Touch: Scroll to the bottom of a product page and additional products keep loading automatically, so there is no need to tap for more.
Biggest Problem: Make shopping by category/department more accessible and more curated.
Overall Grade: A– (Recipient of the “AlKal Seal of Approval”)
Overview: This is a handsome, fast, user friendly app. Go to the Home page and the major categories are right up front. Adding items to the cart and viewing the cart couldn’t be easier. The checkout process is easy and as slick as the rest of the app. The “Weekly Deals,” which break out featured items from the rest of the store, is also a fine addition. When it comes to scrolling through items in general, sometimes the system can be too sensitive, suddenly opening a product page when the intention is to keep scrolling. There are a lot of products for sale and it is good that new items can be added, but those new items should not replace the old. Instead, the list should keep on growing (a la the App Store). Best Buy’s store locator works fast, but be careful not to tap on the store itself or the app will make a phone call. A tap on the map graphic will close the app and launch Google Maps with the directions to the store displayed. Under the “Tools” area there is a loyalty club, of which more shoppers should take advantage. In the “Setting” area you can increase the number of products displayed per page, which is recommended.
Nicest Touch: Drop down sort. Organize catalog items alphabetically, by ratings, price, etc.
Biggest Problem: Search+ (under Tools). While this is “Search+” and not plain old Search, the display itself is confusing. There’s also no way to exit the text field without first inputting something into keypad, even if it’s gibberish. Most everything in the app is easy to use, but this was the exception.
Overall Grade: A (Recipient of the “AlKal Seal of Approval”)
Overview: There are many problems with this app, starting with the fact that it doesn’t let you buy anything. That means it cannot be classified as a store – it is a catalog, and a limited one at that. There are also issues with the design. The Home page has only two links: “Energy Saving Products” and “Storage Solutions.” Okay, but why just these two? And it would be better to have a new promotion appear each time the app is opened. If a user opens the app four times and they never click on Storage, then it’s well past time to offer something else. There is an adequate amount to view off the Home page, but the page design forces more scrolling than necessary thanks to a big static image sitting at the top. The product detail pages are easy enough to get to, but clunky, and there’s no way to make a purchase. Clicking into the “Shop” icon, I found myself thinking, “Home Depot is huge and this is their most important section. Why is there so little inventory? And the area shouldn’t even be called Shop. It should be called Browse!” The “Shop” screen is a classic example of forcing the user to do extra work. The page has a mere three items and none of them are product categories. Instead there is a link to a “Wish List;” a “Shopping List” (not a shopping cart but a list that you can bring to the store like a piece of paper – very 90s); and a poorly titled “Weekly Ad.” Users must take the step of clicking “Weekly Ad” to finally get into the products. Unfortunately, there’s not much to see – 15 items total. (In the entire app, there were only 52 products.) Overall, this app was a disappointment. Home Depot should have created a working store with plenty of merchandise, but they missed it.
Nicest Touch: The “Know How” section is neighborly and consists mainly of installation tips in areas like installing dimmers, a ceiling fan, or a faucet (yet noting about how to fix a faucet!). Tips are served as videos through YouTube and loaded quickly with quality content. Home Depot should think about taking these videos a step further by turning a couple of their hosts into honest-to-goodness video personalities.
Biggest Problem: The shelves at Home Depot are bare and there’s no way to buy what little this brochure has to offer.
Overall Grade: C (Turn this into a store, add inventory and create a smooth purchasing experience and you’ll automatically rise to a B or better)
Overview: It’s a good-looking app, but there are some issues. The “Browse” section is where most of the items are found, yet it’s not listed on the Home page. And drilling down to a desired product can be cumbersome. The app is not built with a cart or checkout feature and all shopping is done through Target’s regular website. It’s not a terrible experience since the browser always remains inside the app’s confines. Still, it would be much better if the purchasing happened on specialized pages for the phone. The “Weekly Ads” section promoting sale items is nice, but it needs more products – say the Top 20 or Top 50 in each category. The “Clearance” section that Target included is a good idea, but the pages don’t show the original price or the discounted percentage, so the user doesn’t know what kind of deal they are getting. Without this information, the sale is much less meaningful. There is a store locator, which is well done, and another feature called the “Gift Finder,” which is hidden under “More” for good reason since this toy isn’t much of a help.
Nicest Touch: The ability to search Registries.
(1) The Target logo on the top left needs to go back to the Home screen. Currently, this graphic is a dead link.
(2) The Registry functionality. While it’s a great idea to offer the registry, using it can be painful and that translates into lost sales. For example, the default is to “Target Baby,” which is easy to miss when you are expecting a wedding registry. Once in the wedding list, “Club Wedd,” the results seem limited as compared to the website. I tried to buy gifts for four different people and three of the four times the result was a web page from Target.com that said, “There is no Target.com page matching your request.” And why can’t you buy products that are “sold in stores”? Why would Target keep their customers separated from the merchandise? Whether this is a problem with the online commerce system or the app itself is beside the point. A missed sale is a missed sale.
(3) Search functions can be slow.
Overall Grade: C+ (off-Target, but make the suggested changes and you rise to an A–)
Overview: A big retailer with so much power and so much merchandise, so why decide to have an iPhone app that only offers electronics products? And why is so much of the space on top of the “Find Electronics” page taken over by a graphic? Even finding a product is more work than necessary. For example, look for a television and a screen will appear asking the user to select a size, then a second screen asking about price range. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just list the TV’s from lowest to highest price? Similarly, Wal-Mart offers a “skip screen” option on various pages. If they think there is a good chance someone will want to skip something, then there is probably an easier method to get people to the right place. Purchases are made through the regular website and there is no cart or checkout in the app itself. When you want to buy something, unfortunately the app closes (unlike Target, for instance) and the Safari browser opens to the product’s web page. This is a big drawback. The “Store Finder” on the other hand is nicely done, with the map opening inside the app. The distance from the store to your current location should have been included on the initial screen rather than one level down, and for the next update, Wal-Mart should consider having the information default to the list rather than the map.
Nicest Touch: Simple to bookmark items. (There are few sections in this app to talk about.)
(1) Not nearly enough categories or merchandise.
(2) Weak checkout and purchasing experience.
Overall Grade: C– (suggest Wal-Mart create a new app to replace this one)
As a final note to all retailers – no one is promoting an SMS Alerts Club and everyone should be. Applications should also be launching on Android and other mobile platforms.
This article can also be viewed at Mobile Commerce Daily.