In Search Of The Mobile Shopping Companion
I think I may be on the verge of being banned from Best Buy. My wife and daughter already refuse to go into the store with me.
“You stalk people,” they contend.
“I do research,” I counter.
“You try to see what total strangers are doing on their phones. They are going to call Security on you.”
I see a lot in the aisles of Best Buy and Sears. The instances of people perusing the store shelves with cell phones in hand have increased noticeably in just the last few months. I have already recounted here my favorite case of a tandem m-shopping team: the wife calling out models while the husband in tow is doing look-ups on some smartphone app responding with online prices.
One of the critical contests going on in the store aisles is which app gets the user’s attention. Can retailers use their apps, or partnerships with third parties, to keep the shopper in the retail brand’s universe of influence? Or will third parties like eBay’s RedLaser or ShopSavvy get user loyalty by their applicability across retail experiences?
I asked the folks at Mobile+Positive to run some numbers regarding the popularity of shopping apps -- both those branded by retailers and those generated by some of these upstart third-party mobile developers. They use the Luth Research App Traffic Index to determine the lifetime download activity for apps. It is a bit of a black box: an algorithm that does statistical analysis of app comments, ratings, pricing, category placement and release dates as a recipe for indexing the relative downloads of an app since it launched. Obviously this is not a measure of overall usage across apps. It is a rough approximation of overall popularity of certain apps relative to one another.
But here is what we got, using the LTI (Luth Traffic Index) to indicate relative lifetime downloads, but only in the Apple iTunes App Store.
Amazon Mobile 45.6
More caveats. Since there is no actual “shopping” category in iTunes the list is not necessarily comprehensive in picking up all the contenders. eBay, for instance, is not here -- and probably should be the next time we run it, although its RedLaser app is.
But there are some interesting insights to be gained from this rough first run at comparing shopping app popularity. Notably, the big brand stores are in a serious battle for consumer attention against third parties. Target appears to have achieved singular visibility among its customers, succeeding in capturing them with their own app. But for the 16 apps we checked, only six among the most popular shopping tools carries a retail brand -- and one of those brands, Amazon, is actively looking to poach customers with its app.
Clearly the app ecosystem has opened up an opportunity for new shopping brands to emerge. Companies like ShopSavvy (which works on 2D codes and UPCs) and SnapTell (image recognition and 3D codes on books, DVDs and CDs) have received considerable attention simply from their presence in the new ecology of the app store. Their popularity rivals known brands.
Also noteworthy is the popularity of the rewards-driven shopping apps like shopkick and CheckPoints. Both of these apps come at the retail situation a bit differently. Shopkick works directly with major retailers like Best Buy and Old Navy to encourage pre-store and in-store use with a points system. CheckPoints focuses more on the CPG brands themselves rather than specific retailers. In either case there appears to be some traction among users for these models, which reward them for use.
But overall, what we see in this metrics round up is a cacaphony of voices. Mobile introduces to the retail space a confusing set of players all vying for notice. You not only have the retailer, hoping to leverage their apps. You have third-party partners, non-partners and even shopping malls.
For retailers, the missing component in all of this tends to be salespeople on the ground working with the mobilized consumer. In my retail spying runs, I have seen all manner of responses by salespeople to someone holding up a smartphone with a rival’s price or product information that conflicts with what the clerk just said. I have seen everything from puzzled puppy dog cocked heads to boilerplate rationales for why someone should buy here. What I have not seen yet is a clerk pull out his or her own smartphone and work with the customer on her own turf. Here is an opportunity for retailers to show off the branded app or just to show the customer that the seller and the buyer are on the same wavelength.
Retailers don’t just need a mobile app or mobile Web strategy. First and foremost, they need an in-store staff strategy that works with -- not against -- the mobilized consumer.