December 8, 2023

Retailers Enliven Catalog Offerings Through Apps

Anthropologie wants to change that, and thinks the tablet is the key. For the holiday season, it has commissioned a new iPad app, designed to give shoppers a flavor of its own store, but also to offer a new way to shop, by allowing people to browse, mix and match items, and view multimedia features in ways not possible in stores, print catalogs or online.

The company is not alone. Many retailers, as varied as Saks Fifth Avenue and Wal-Mart, are putting out new iPad apps in time for the holiday season. These apps do away with scrolling through pages of items online, and aim to make shopping more entertaining.

“There’s always been a little bit of a disappointment with the online experience, because the Web site needs to be practical and doesn’t engage the customers as well as the store experience and the catalog,” said Chris Love, director of portfolio management at Anthropologie. “We’re thinking about the iPad as a new channel that needs to be treated differently.”

Just 8 percent of online shoppers own tablet devices, and retailers, on average, have spent an anemic $14,000 on tablet apps, according to Forrester Research. But 60 percent of tablet owners use them to shop and many, especially young people, say they prefer shopping on tablets to smartphones and even computers.

Like magazine publishers, retailers greeted the iPad by putting their print catalogs or Web sites on the device. But now some companies — including Revel Touch, which designed Anthropologie’s app — are reimagining catalogs for the iPad by taking advantage of its touch screen to flip through or zoom in on items and adding video, moving images and connections to social networks.

“They’re ahead of the game in terms of thinking about interactivity and the best way to deploy it in this environment,” Van L. Baker, a research vice president at Gartner covering e-commerce, said about Revel Touch. Other companies with businesses that create catalog apps for retailers include Google, TheFind and Catalog Spree.

On Revel’s Anthropologie app, people can create collages by scrolling through blouses, trousers, dresses, jewelry and purses, and buy the items they choose. Shoppers can see thumbnail views of all dresses or jewelry and touch them to magnify items and make purchases.

“It’s impossible to do this on a desktop with a mouse,” said Mar Hershenson, founder and chief executive of Revel Touch. “The transition of product search has gone from purely a matrix to trying to be more inspirational.”

At Anthropologie, before the app’s introduction, 6 percent of sales came from shoppers visiting the Web site on iPads, triple the portion a year ago, Mr. Love said. He expects the new iPad app to account for 20 percent of sales in a year.

Retailers, who generally pay Revel Touch set-up and hosting fees and a percentage of sales, can automatically change the inventory that appears on the app. Revel plans to personalize catalogs so a cook shopping a home décor catalog would see the kitchen items while someone else sees sofas.

Revel Touch also built an iPad app for Tea Collection, a children’s clothing retailer. It includes a virtual dressing room where people can create outfits; the ability to share outfits with friends on social networks; and behind-the-scenes video of clothing designers’ travel and other sources of inspiration.

“At your computer, you go on and find the right size and it’s very functional and fast,” said Leigh Rawdon, chief executive of Tea Collection. “Now I want to interact with the woman who’s snuggled up in bed in her pajamas, and she can just linger and discover new things.”

Catalog Spree, which includes iPad catalogs for retailers like Nordstrom and Sundance, said its users spend more than half an hour on the app on weekends, almost eight times as long as they spend on the retailers’ Web sites.

“The last major innovation in the retail space was in the late 1870s with the introduction of the catalog,” said Joaquín Ruiz, chief executive of Catalog Spree. “You can bring the objects to life on an iPad and you can’t do that on paper — and you don’t have to chop down a tree.”

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