Brands Bet on IPad Catalogs to Expand E-commerce Reach

Apple Device Seen as Game-Changer in Its Ability to Stimulate Consumers' Purchasing Power

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YORK, Pa. ( -- Forget click-to-buy online strategies. The Apple iPad is ushering in swipe-to-buy.

Its visually oriented touch screen is already being used by retailers such as eBay, Amazon, Gap, and Gilt Groupe with commerce apps that take specific advantage of the form factor. But that's likely just the beginning.

"The iPhone strategy [for commerce] has been about browsing and store locating with efforts focused on driving people to the stores. But the iPad strategy is much more about purchasing on the device," said Raven Zachary, president of iOS agency Small Society.

So while magazine reading and entertainment viewing are getting the early consumer buzz on the iPad, the real play for brands may be as an e-commerce platform. Commerce and on-the-go buying has been successful on the iPhone, but the small screen size and limited visuals have shortchanged many efforts. The iPad brings the capability for better graphics and video, a touch screen for an experience more akin to catalog shopping, social networking, an easier way to swipe or touch to buy, and even cost saving and green appeal with the use of less paper for weekly flyers and catalogs.

"The iPhone was the first shot," said Ray Grady, exec VP at Acquity Group consultancy. "It changed the retail paradigm and showed retailers how to deal with smartphones initially. The iPad is a different flavor of the same dish ... but what we're seeing is that there are more actual transactions on the iPad than the iPhone."

Natural fit
Catalogs are a seemingly natural fit for iPad. Well-designed print catalogs are browsed, read and shared just like magazines, so why shouldn't the venerable Sears catalog become a touchable e-catalog on the iPad? Sears was vague but indicated it might consider it. Imran Jooma, senior VP-ecommerce, wrote in an e-mail interview, "Sears is a leader in virtual catalogs, such as last years' digital Wish book. The point is to give the customer the choices that utilize these emerging technologies ... their adoption and valuable feedback will determine much of the direction for the future." He added that Sears is already dedicated to mobile commerce, and offers more mobile apps than many of its retail competitors.

Digital publisher Dirxion is working on digital catalogs built for the iPad with the first group coming next month. Brad Gorman, mobile and iPad manager, said the company has got plenty of retailers who aren't just interested, but are "begging to be in the beta test."

"The internet allows for great shopping tools to find the best prices or get reviews, but it's missing the pizzazz -- the reason why we want something in the first place," said Brad Spirrison, managing editor of Appolicious. "With the iPad, now you can have great content combined with a great pathway to e-commerce all on one device. That's a game-changer."

Indeed, it's the move closer to the sale that is especially appealing to retailers and brands. As editor Graham Charlton said, "Anything that reduces the friction between a product being seen and acting on it will increase sales."

Indeed, a "fashion brand told me that 70% of the people who come to their website have received a catalog. They probably get the catalog, sit on the couch and read it, figure out what they want to buy and then walk over to the computer to log onto the site," said Benjamin Palmer, CEO of Barbarian Group. "The iPad could change that."

Numbers booster
Gilt Groupe, an online high-end fashion brand whose hook is exclusive 36-hour sales that begin every day at noon, launched its iPad app at the same time as the device and has seen that come true. The number of user visits increased; the times of the day they visit have diversified; and Gilt has tracked a 25%-plus increase in revenue per user connected directly to its iPad app.

"Our iPhone app helped people transact quickly at noon when they needed to, but the iPad app is different, it's more about sitting and browsing and researching," said Carl Sparks, president and CMO at Gilt. "It was liberating to build something completely new -- throw out the mouse and throw out the keyboard and start over with the way users want to interact with products and images."

Gap, along with agency AKQA, created the Gap 1969 Stream app, a "shopping experience built just for iPad," for Gap's 1969 denim line. It has celebrities, designer tips, music, videos and mix-and-match modeling, all touch and swipe -- and all tagged for one-tap buying.

Five of the current top 10 free iPad apps are shopping-themed: eBay, Amazon Mobile, Zillow and two Craigslist apps. And three of the other 10 apps -- two recipes and one home decor -- include shopping features and functions. (The remaining apps are media: HGTVtoGo and Reader's Digest magazine.)

But brands interested in commerce on the iPad should be willing to design and optimize for the device. "Don't half-ass it out of the gate and give the customer a terrible experience," warned Mr. Grady.

Pottery Barn, for instance, has been criticized by reviewers online and in the app store for its catalog app that doesn't live up visually to its real-world catalog, needing an account to log in to read it, and the inability to buy through the app.

Best Tips for Catalogs on the IPad

Consider the options. Do you need a full iPad app, or will an optimized website work for your audience? Or maybe a downloadable .pdf catalog instead of an app? Keep in mind that iPad owners, especially these early adopters, tend to be tech-savvy with higher expectations than the average consumer.

Go native. Users want native iPad apps, not just ported mobile apps or web pages. If you are going to design a specific catalog app, use the same style and even some elements from other media, but also incorporate the unique ability of the touch screen and visual, sound and graphics capabilities.

Think about the transition. If you want your customers to switch from print to digital, consider how you will help them switch. A catalog in a mailbox serves as a reminder to browse and shop online. If you create a digital catalog, don't forget to give your customers a reminder -- maybe an e-mail or direct-mail postcard -- that new merchandise has arrived.

Don't rush. Remember there are only 3 million iPad owners so far -- compared to 100 million iPhone and iPod touch owners. And the iPad still isn't global. Better to take the time to do a quality catalog then rush one out the door. That said, it's also a new playing field, and there's a first-mover advantage.

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