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Is Sears’ iPad app an example for other retailers to follow?

January 24, 2011

Sears drives commerce via the iPad

With more big-box retailers and department store chains such as Sears launching commerce-enabled applications for Apple’s iPad and other tablets, merchants must position their offerings to differentiate from competitors.

Sears and sister company Kmart both have mobile Web sites, applications for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry and SMS alerts, and Sears’ iPad application complements these offerings, providing an additional consumer touch point. When developing an application for tablets, retailers must take into account how it fits into their overall strategy, and the similarities and differences of tablets compared to other devices.

“I think the biggest issue [for retailers] to address is why are they building something custom? What are they trying to achieve?” said Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst of ebusiness and retail at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA. “The iPad is often a substitute for the PC, so it is not as much an imperative that the content needs to be changed unless you have Flash on the site and you just want to make sure that all your key features are accessible and render effectively.

“It is different from a small-screen smartphone in that way,” she said. “IPad usage is different in that it is not as frequently used on the go, so any special content may be about supporting where it is used—say in the kitchen or living room.

“In the case of the former, you may want to integrate things like recipes—in the latter, it could be integration with TV advertising.”

Sears Holdings Corp. owns and operates American department store chains Kmart and Sears, officially named Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Sears ramps up mobile offerings
While Sears and Kmart have both lead the way in the mobile commerce arena, with platforms and initiatives targeting users of both smartphones and feature phones, retailers can never rest on their laurels, especially with the economy still on the rebound.

The next frontier for merchants is tablets, including the iPad and emerging competitors from Research In Motion’s BlackBerry to the many tablets coming out this year based on Google’s Android operating system.

Sears’ iPad application lets consumers browse for products and buy them using their tablet.

While there is some crossover, applications for tablets offer retailers the chance to reach a different audience than applications targeting smartphone users.

In addition, the use cases for tablets are different than the ways that consumers use their smartphones.

“As with all departures into a new format, retailers need to consider how and when consumers use devices before determining what the most appropriate service is,” said Alex Hall, president of the Americas at TigerSpike Inc., New York. “How can the large screen and ever-expanding user interface possibilities be best used to improve the browsing or shopping experience?

“It is difficult conceptually to create a new way of navigating information that retailers have traditionally just translated directly from the catalogue to the computer to the iPhone, but there is still great opportunity to enhance the overall experience,” he said.

“In particular, I think this applies to the catalogue-browsing experience, where tablets could achieve something far more intuitive.”

An application for smartphones such as the iPhone and Android devices ultimately should have the vision of being an in-store aid, supporting functionality such as mobile coupons and electronic redemption for offers received in a location-based capacity.

Mr. Hall said that the iPad and other tablets are easier to access than laptops, which makes them a much more compelling vehicle for the combined process of planning and purchase without visiting a bricks-and-mortar store.

Research has shown that in certain industries the iPad is opening up new consumption and browsing occasions during the day, per TigerSpike.

For example, grocery shopping in particular can be a planned weekly event but, in certain demographics, is far less scheduled.

“As such, with more single-income homes and busy urban lives, an online replenishment of the cupboards is more likely to happen whenever the shopper has downtime,” Mr. Hall said.

“In that downtime, the tablet is more accessible for a few minutes than a laptop,” he said. “A seamless and user-friendly tablet shopping experience will significantly increase retailer revenues in the ecommerce realm, if only because of the increased usage occasions.”

Final Take
Sears rich-media mobile ad campaign powered by Y&R Chicago, Digitas and Medialets

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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