The current state of retail applications
Retail-oriented mobile activities have increased dramatically as handheld technology has advanced, and as our use of smartphones has increased globally. Concurrently, I would argue that social media use has increased alongside this – two potentially related trends that, as I’ll touch upon shortly, mix quite well. The bottom line is that we have begun to turn to our mobile devices as primary sources of information about the world around us and the activities that we engage in, be it when I’m texting a friend, looking up an address on BlackBerry® Maps, or finding a restaurant nearby.
The retail experience should be no different, and huge strides are indeed being taken in this area. Today we see several branded retail apps, and many retail giants who are heavily involved in social media. When these two concepts mix, the end result is as interesting as it is complex and scalable. Take, for example, the idea of businesses using foursquare check-ins to drive promotions – and ultimately, traffic -to their physical location. Here we have a variety of forces and trends at work – and the good news is that they’re converging to provide consumers with a better experience and businesses with higher levels of engagement.
The functions of retail-oriented apps
The purpose of a mobile retail application – be it standalone on the OS or a web app – is most often to enhance the customer experience, provide information, service, and peer reviews. We are observing here a bridge between the digital and physical experience of purchase consideration and follow-through. From the business perspective, these apps provide the capability to directly engage with a customer and shape their entire experience on many levels, from brand communication to promotion and advertising awareness.
Case Study: Canadian Tire
An example of a retail app in action can be found with Canadian Tire. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Cooper (a Mobile Team Lead at Canadian Tire), who gave me some fantastic insight into the success of Canadian Tire’s recent launch of a mobile application for BlackBerry® smartphones. The app truly serves up a plethora of information to consumers, allowing access to a digital version of their flyer, complete with product information at a single touch – zooming, swiping, and a wide variety of other natural interactions that come together to reveal the future of retail applications on the BlackBerry platform.
I noticed two points in particular that are worth mentioning; the first is the integration of the application into my BlackBerry smartphone. I was able to email myself reminders or notes related to specific products, right out of the application. Additionally, the location finder is hooked straight into BlackBerry Maps to deliver a seamless experience of finding the store or Gas+ that you’re looking for. Finally, the app makes use of the camera to employ barcode scanning on phones with autofocus functionality – providing a variety of information on products, such as reviews and videos.
Secondly, the app has a wide range of use. For example, it can be used to scout out a Canadian Tire location, discover sales on relevant items, and in-store with the barcode scanner. The use extends beyond consumer decision-making as well, and is often used by employees to enhance the level of customer service offered. Clearly a retail application has a wide reach in affecting the process of consumer purchasing.
What about the business angle?
This is a B2B blog after all, and although we’re all consumers ourselves, there are insights here that can’t be ignored by any organization with a physical retail presence. First, the app additionally allows for regionalized and personalized marketing. Most BlackBerry devices released over the last several years have GPS capabilities, allowing the creators of applications to discover, at the permission of the user, his or her whereabouts. This is a powerful tool, and one that has garnered Canadian Tire twice as many clicks on regionalized promotions as opposed to widespread marketing efforts.
Secondly, putting a mobile application in the hands of your customers allows you to both engage with him or her on a deeper level, and also to bridge the gap to other brands. Part of the discussion that Adam and I had revolved around the concept that if a user downloads and installs an app, and then keeps it on their BlackBerry smartphone, they become an engaged customer – as opposed to putting marketing materials in front of a segment of individuals en masse. Bridging the gap to other brands and services becomes simple. For example, in the Canadian Tire application, users can search not only for retail outlets but also for petroleum services at Gas+ locations. This is residual value for an additional sub-brand or service within a company.
So what does the future hold?
This is where it gets really exciting. I personally envision an increase in the number of apps – especially branded apps that are created by specific organizations for customers. We’re already seeing this trend in action with apps built for a single real estate agent or insurance broker. The apps are becoming easier and easier to build and implement, especially considering Adobe® AIR® support for BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablet and BlackBerry® WebWorks™ for BlackBerry devices.
Secondly, the technology itself that is inherent in the devices will only move forward along an innovative and inventive line. The concept of Near Field Communication (NFC), such as paying for a meal by swiping your BlackBerry device across a receiver at the cash register, is not only on the way but in active testing. This concept has endless application, such as swiping your phone across a movie poster to purchase tickets or read reviews, tapping on a recipe to discover the contents and instructions, or replacing security badges at offices (I’d love to replace mine with a swipe-able BlackBerry smartphone!). The recently launched BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 contains this NFC technology.
We are currently at an exciting point in the app space, and within this area, retail applications have been proven to fill a unique void and add serious value to the customer experience both outside and inside the store. Beyond this, the increase in apps and technology within the devices will only spell an exceptional future experience for the users of BlackBerry devices. I’m itching to see what’s around the corner!
Get the app from BlackBerry App World and try it out!
Does your organization have its own BlackBerry application? If not, what would it look like if it did? Share your thoughts on your own company app in the comments!