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Rating retailers’ iPhone apps: Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Walmart

January 19, 2010

Al Kalman

Al Kalman

By Al Kalman

Retailers have begun to launch mobile applications, but there are many brands which have not done anything yet, so there is still time to get products up to snuff, or improve what they already have.

All ratings are below are based on applications built on the iPhone platform, because thus far iPhone applications represent the best versions that brands have produced. Besides, not all companies have converted their applications to other platforms such as the Android.

Overview: It should not be much of a surprise that Amazon gets it right.

The “Search” is the best part of this application and it is located right upfront. Just try typing something in and the results are both comprehensive and fast.

Amazon is pushing the Kindle and its accessories on the homepage (two out of three spots), but after logging in, the main Kindle promotion is replaced with more personalized recommendations.

Amazon's app

Amazon's app

Where the Amazon application does fall flat is with general categories.

The Amazon Web site lets you easily and immediately link to areas of interest such as books, electronics, home & garden and sports & outdoors. Why not create a similar shopping experience for the mobile application? Doing so would immediately expand the inventory that customers can see and make it much easier to navigate.

Purchasing through the application could also be more streamlined and consistent.

Sometimes the “Buy” button is on the product page where it should be, but other times it is harder to find.

Some pages have an “Add To Cart” button while others do not. Some products make you click on “Model” – even if there is only one choice – or “Product Packaging,” which then offers choices such as “Frustration Free” as if users are expected to know what that means.

Eventually you get what you want and the inconsistencies are minor and relatively few considering the sheer number of products and retailers that make up the Amazon universe.

The checkout is clean and easy and overall this application is very well done.

Nicest touch: Scroll to the bottom of a product page and additional products keep loading automatically, so there is no need to tap for more.

Biggest problem: Make shopping by category or department more accessible and curate those sections.

Overall grade: A–

Best Buy's app

Best Buy's app

Best Buy
Overview: This is a handsome, fast, user-friendly application. Go to the homepage and the major categories are right upfront.

Adding items to the cart and viewing the cart could not be easier. The checkout process is easy and as slick as the rest of the application.

The “Weekly Deals,” which break out featured items from the rest of the store, is also a fine addition.

When it comes to scrolling through items in general, sometimes the system can be too sensitive, suddenly opening a product page when the intention is to keep scrolling.

There are a lot of products for sale and it is good that new items can be added, but those new items should not replace the old. Instead, the list should keep on growing, a la the App Store.

Best Buy’s store locator works fast, but be careful not to tap on the store itself or the application will make a phone call.

A tap on the map graphic will close the application and launch Google Maps with the directions to the store displayed.

Under the “Tools” area there is a loyalty club, of which more shoppers should take advantage.

In the “Setting” area you can increase the number of products displayed per page, which is recommended.

Nicest touch:  Dropdown sort. Organize catalog items alphabetically, by ratings and price.

Biggest problem: Search+ (under Tools).

While this is “Search+” and not plain old Search, the display itself is confusing.

There is also no way to exit the text field without first inputting something into keypad, even if it is gibberish. Most everything in the application is easy to use, but this was the exception.

Overall grade: A

Home Depot's app

Home Depot's app

Home Depot
Overview: There are many problems with this application, starting with the fact that it does not let you buy anything. That means it cannot be classified as a store – it is a catalog, and a limited one at that.

That means it cannot be classified as a store – it is a catalog, and a limited one at that.

There are also issues with the design. The homepage has only two links: “Energy Saving Products” and “Storage Solutions.”

Okay, but why just these two? And it would be better to have a new promotion appear each time the application is opened.

If a user opens the application four times and she never clicks on Storage, then it is well past time to offer something else.

There is an adequate amount to view off the homepage, but the page design forces more scrolling than necessary thanks to a big static image sitting at the top.

The product detail pages are easy enough to get to, but clunky, and there is no way to make a purchase.

Clicking into the “Shop” icon, I found myself thinking, “Home Depot is huge and this is its most important section. Why is there so little inventory? And the area should not even be called Shop. It should be called Browse!”

The “Shop” screen is a classic example of forcing the user to do extra work. The page has a mere three items and none of them are product categories.

Instead, there is a link to a “Wish List;” a “Shopping List” (not a shopping cart but a list that you can bring to the store like a piece of paper – very 1990s); and a poorly titled “Weekly Ad.”

Users must take the step of clicking “Weekly Ad” to finally get into the products.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to see – 15 items total. There were only 52 products in the entire application.

Overall, this application was a disappointment. Home Depot should have created a working store with plenty of merchandise, but it missed it.

Nicest touch: The “Know How” section is neighborly and consists mainly of installation tips in areas such as installing dimmers, a ceiling fan or a faucet (yet nothing about how to fix a faucet!).

Tips are served as videos through YouTube and loaded quickly with quality content.

Home Depot should think about taking these videos a step further by turning a couple of their hosts into honest-to-goodness video personalities.

Biggest problem: The mobile shelves at Home Depot are bare and there is no way to buy what little this brochure has to offer.

Overall grade: C. Turn this into a store, add inventory and create a smooth purchasing experience and Home Depot will automatically rise to a B or better.

Target's app

Target's app

Overview: It is a good-looking application, but there are some issues.

The “Browse” section is where most of the items are found, yet it is not listed on the homepage. And drilling down to a desired product can be cumbersome.

The application is not built with a cart or checkout feature and all shopping is done through Target’s regular Web site.

It is not a terrible experience since the browser always remains inside the application’s confines.

Still, it would be much better if the purchasing happened on specialized pages for the phone.

The “Weekly Ads” section promoting sale items needs more products – say the Top 20 or Top 50 in each category.

The “Clearance” section that Target included is a good idea, but the pages do not show the original price or the discounted percentage, so the consumer does not know what kind of deal she is getting.

Without this information, the sale is much less meaningful. There is a store locator, which is well done, and another feature called the “Gift Finder,” which is hidden under “More” for good reason since this toy is not much of a help.

Nicest touch: The ability to search Registries.

Biggest problems: First, the Target logo on the top left needs to go back to the homescreen. Currently, this graphic is a dead link.

Second is the Registry functionality. While it is a great idea to offer the registry, using it can be painful and that translates into lost sales.

For example, the default is to “Target Baby,” which is easy to miss when you are expecting a wedding registry.

Once in the wedding list, “Club Wedd,” I tried to buy gifts for four different people and three of the four times the result was a Web page from that said, “There is no page matching your request.”

And why can you not buy products that are “sold in stores”? Whether these are problems with the ecommerce system or the application itself is beside the point. A missed sale is a missed sale.

Finally, search functions can be slow.

Overall grade: C+ . Off-Target, but make the suggested changes and the retailer rises to an A–.

Walmart's app

Walmart's app


And why is so much of the space on top of the “Find Electronics” page taken over by a graphic?

Overview: A big retailer with so much power and so much merchandise, so why decide to have an iPhone application that only offers electronics products?

Even finding a product is more work than necessary.

For example, look for a television and a screen will appear asking the user to select a size, then a second screen asks about price range. Would it not have been easier to just list the TV sets from lowest to highest price?

Similarly, Walmart offers a “skip screen” option on various pages. If it thinks there is a good chance someone will want to skip something, then there is probably an easier method to get people to the right place.

Purchases are made through the regular Web site and there is no cart or checkout in the application itself.

When you want to buy something, unfortunately the application closes – unlike Target, for instance – and the Safari browser opens to the product’s Web page. This is a big drawback.

The “Store Finder,” on the other hand, is nicely done, with the map opening inside the application.

The distance from the store to your current location should have been included on the initial screen rather than one level down.

For the next update, Walmart should consider having the information default to the list rather than the map.

Nicest touch: Simple to bookmark items. However, there are few sections in this application to talk about.

Biggest problem: First, there are not nearly enough categories or merchandise.

Second, the application offers a weak checkout and purchasing experience.

Overall grade: C–. Walmart should create a new application to replace this one.

AS A FINAL NOTE to all retailers – no one is promoting an SMS Alerts Club and everyone should be. Applications should also be launching on Android and other mobile platforms.

Al Kalman is president of AlKal Media Group, New York. Reach him at

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One Response to “Rating retailers’ iPhone apps: Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Walmart”

  1. Steph Dlugon Says:

    Wow, I’m REALLY surprised you guys didn’t include our SkyMall app in your list, especially after you recently published an article about it (

    It’s a great app that gets it right. Users can access the full catalog (including photos and product descriptions) with or without network connectivity. The app offers both search and browse functionality with the ability to order search results by name, price, or popularity. Purchases are made right within the app. There’s also an in-app game that features SkyMall products, in-app access to SkyMall’s Twitter feed, a gift finder and much much more.

    Hopefully the readers will judge for themselves. The app is free and available here:

    Steph Dlugon
    Director of Product Marketing
    iNomadics, Inc.

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