April 20, 2024

Retailers Offer Apps With a Catalog Feel

“It’s a reasonable facsimile of doing a little window shopping and maybe you stop in somewhere and get something that piques your fancy,” she said, like the blue silk Phillip Lim blouse she recently bought on the Net-a-Porter.com iPad app.

Shopping on the iPad is more convenient than using her laptop in bed, Ms. Sara said, and easier than scrolling through tiny images on her phone while waiting in the car for her children.

“It’s greatly enhanced my kind of depressing soccer mom life,” she said.

Shopping, as old-timers may remember, was once fun.

Then Google came along, and afternoons spent wandering past store windows, or flipping through catalogs, were often condensed into two-minute searches for “jeans 32 waist dark wash -bootcut -stretch city fit”

Now, though, retailers like Net-a-Porter think they have found a way to give online shopping more of the feel of an outing at the mall or an hour with a catalog — by creating apps that resemble magazines for tablet computers. Just as magazine publishers are producing iPad apps that mimic print in a way they never could on ordinary Web sites, retailers are making iPad catalogs, with big, stylized photographs that users can flip through on the couch or in bed. And also like magazine publishers, they are adding rich features like video, sound and 3-D views.

Though most retailers started with the iPad, some are starting to build versions for other tablets. EBay, for instance, is building Android tablet apps and a new version of its Web site designed for tablets. Others, like Blue Nile, the online diamond retailer, are taking a different approach, constructing tablet versions of their Web sites instead of apps on the theory that most traffic still comes through Web searches.

The idea is to offer “shop-ertainment,” said Siva Kumar, chief executive of TheFind, a shopping search engine that last week introduced Catalogue, a tablet app that pulls together interactive catalogs from about 30 retailers including Crate Barrel and Sephora.

Traditional retailers like Sears and Ralph Lauren, along with e-commerce focused companies like Amazon, Gilt, QVC, HSN and eBay have all introduced tablet apps.

Many retailers say they see a lucrative future in tablet shopping because even though tablets made up only about 4.4 percent of all computers shipped in 2010, according to Morgan Stanley, they are expected to make up about 20 percent within two years. And iPad owners, who tend to be affluent given the $499 price tag for the device, already prefer not only browsing but also buying from a retailer’s app rather than the Web site in some cases.

At Net-a-Porter, for example, about 15 percent of shoppers buy from the iPad app, while eBay says the average purchase amount through its iPad app is higher than through either its Web site or through mobile phones. Meanwhile, Blue Nile executives say they expect iPad shopping to outpace Web shopping at some point.

Retailers also see the tablet as a more appealing backdrop for presenting their goods. On a computer, anyone can put up a Web site and compete with an established retailer. But on a tablet, big retailers have the deep pockets and development skills to set up eye-catching features and also add the ability to drop an item in a cart with a quick drag of a finger.

It is also easier than on a phone, say, to swipe to the next image or zoom in on a hemline. And the image and video quality are often better than on either phones or computers.

At the same time, tablets allow retailers to fix what many think went wrong for them online, when search engines made shopping all about the price, rather than about the store. In the new apps, retailers edit their merchandise, focusing on just a few top items. This is meant to appeal to shoppers who might be overwhelmed by the pages of search results they see on a computer. Because it is about presentation and selection rather than price, it gets the stores out of the low-price game that many are forced to play online, and back into being fashion arbiters.

“The iPad app is really our magazine app,” said Alison Loehnis, vice president of sales and marketing for Net-a-Porter. Its app was introduced last summer, and has been downloaded 120,000 times.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=adbbc61a4777c0e51efb2ef6281a66c6

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