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Nov 4, 2010 | 5 minute read

Store App in the App Store: Apple Raises the Bar for Mobile Commerce

written by P Sheldon

About a year ago, Apple started hiring mobile commerce product managers. Last week, we got to see the fruits of their investment - the all new Apple Store iPhone app. This app complements the existing App Store and iTunes applications on the iPhone, and allows iPhone owners to purchase the entire suite of Apple hardware, accessories and software products directly on their iPhone.

Until last week, Amazon and Best Buy led the field both in m-commerce app innovation and customer experience, but the new Apple Store app raises the bar. Although late to the party, Apple has ensured that the its store app offers nearly the exact same functionality as the e-store, offering a true multi-channel experience for consumers. The app is completely integrated with a customer's Apple ID, which speeds up checkout, as addresses and payment details are pre-populated. This may also enable Apple to personalize the user experience, though no immediate evidence of personalization is apparent at this time.

The new app includes 10 notable features that we are used to seeing online but stand out as ground breakers in a mobile commerce application:

1. Multi Channel Merchandising

Offers on the app homepage change in sync with the offers on the web store, ensuring cross-channel merchandising consistency. Notice how the featured icon changed to reflect the theme of the "Great Gifts for the Holidays" promotion. This change to the navigation menu occurred dynamically without an update of the app.

2. Gift Options

Apple allows you to add gift packaging and a message to items in the cart.

3. Product personalization

Not only can you add engraving to eligible products in the app, but you get a real-time preview of the message as you type, just like in the web store.

4. Upsells

When adding items to the cart, related upsell products and services are suggested. This feature is fairly unobtrusive, with a simple "Skip" button enabling a quick bypass to the shopping cart.

??5. Rating, Reviews and Q&A

It's not uncommon to see ratings and reviews in an iPhone ecommerce app, as they are a powerful multi-channel research tool for shoppers whilst visiting a retailers physical store. But Apple has gone a step further and added their Q&A forum functionality to the Store app, allowing customers to read answers to popular product related questions.

6. One Page Checkout

Apple has done a great job of integrating the Store app with users' Apple account profiles, enabling the re-use of saved profile data including shipping, billing and payment preferences. This allows Apple to offer an intuitive 1-page checkout process on the iPhone. Interestingly, in the App Store (not to be confused with the Store app), users have commented that they find the shopping experience on the app quicker than on the web.

7. Selecting Product Variants

Although other iPhone apps including Amazon have this feature, most use the standard Apple iOS list control to present the variation options. Apple has added an intuitive variant selection screen that includes color swatches for products that are available in different color variants. This approach makes selecting a variant very easy, especially when more than 1 product variant type exists (e.g. colors and memory capacity).

8. Store Finder Tools

Most mobile commerce apps have a store finder, but the Apple Store app goes a step further. Not only does the app use the phone's GPS to easily locate the nearest store, it also allows the customer to see what events are going on the store and book reservations for the Genius Bar, One to Ones, Workshops and Business set-ups. These tools are a great examples of multi-channel enablement for the mobile consumer who wants to see if they can get checked into an Apple workshop whilst in downtown on a Saturday afternoon.

9. Online & Offline Help

In Linda's last blog post Customer Service Scorecard, What's Your Grade? she highlighted the importance of having the customer service number clearly visible in the checkout. Well, Apple was listening! The checkout in the Store app has a convenient "Call Apple" button that integrates perfectly with the phone. Also, they offer a convenient help section with answers to common shopping queries - again, a top recommendation for improving customer service.

10. Store Reservations and Notifications

Products can be reserved using the Store app for pickup in a nearby retail store. This again is a great example of enabling multi-channel commerce, providing the mobile consumer peace of mind that their trip to the Apple store will not result in disappointment. Finally, the most novel feature in the new Store App is the in-store notification system that uses the phone's GPS and Apple notification alerts to remind shoppers when they enter the retail store that they have a meet-up appointment, and allows them to check-in. We can expect to see more retailers leveraging this combination of location services and the iPhone notification mechanism for many other purposes, including special offers and in-store personalized recommendations.

All in all, a commendable effort by Apple that is receiving mostly positive reviews in the App Store. Only a few minor negative points should be noted:

  • The shopping cart is not synced between the App and the web store. This can be annoying for consumers who intend to use the App as a shopping list and expect the cart in the app to the reflect their cart on their desktop/laptop or vice versa.
  • Advanced configuration of Mac options (e.g. hard drive and memory size) is not yet supported.
  • Currently, there is no dedicated iPad version of the new Store App. But I wouldn't be surprised to see this soon, possibly to coincide with the release of iOS4 later in November. If so, it will be interesting to see the experience that Apple creates.?

Finally, don't just take my word for it, go check out the Apple Store application yourself! (Link for US iTunes accounts) What do you think of it?