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REI app purpose is twofold: sales and service

March 25, 2011

The REI Android app

The day the iPhone app came out, REI’s Facebook fans were asking where the Android version was. To meet the needs of its customers, the retailer quickly built an Android version.

REI customers can now research and purchase gear, check out product information and reviews, look up their REI member number and dividend, all from Android smartphones. The app was built by Ubermind.

“Building on the success of our iPhone app for users, we’re excited to extend the REI brand to Android users,” said Michelle Eten, director of ecommerce at REI, Kent, WA. “With Android as the fastest growing mobile platform, we can deliver on our commitment to be a knowledgeable and helpful resource.”

Mobile Commerce Daily’s Giselle Tsirulnik interviewed Shehryar Khan, CEO of Ubermind, Seattle, regarding the new application and how it serves as a sales driver and service provider.

Here is what he said:

Why is it important for a brand like REI, which already has an iPhone app, to extend its presence to the Android platform?
The day the iPhone app came out, REI’s Facebook fans were asking where the Android version was.

We are almost at feature parity, which is actually a big win. 2010 Android sales were explosive; sales increased by more than 888 percent (surpassing iPhone) according to Gartner.

In short, if a brand has found value in participating in the iPhone ecosystem, then certainly the similar, faster-growing Android platform should also be part of that brand’s mobile strategy.

How does this new Android app take advantage of Android’s unique native functionality?
There are some behind the scenes differences between REI’s Android app and iPhone app, but in reality these are hidden from the user.

For example, the Android phone cameras are generally better (in terms of raw resolution) than many earlier iPhone cameras.

Hence, the bar code scanning feature is available to all Android users, but conditionally unavailable for some older iPhone users where it doesn’t work as reliably.

On the surface, however, I wouldn’t draw a bright line between the platforms and say that the Android version takes advantage of native functionality that the iPhone version can’t.

What is unique about this app?
REI has a unique perspective on retail in general. They’re a co-op first and foremost, so they have a responsibility to their members.

Part of that is about product, and they wanted to expose a convenient shopping experience to their members.

But part of it is about membership – being part of a community who cares about the outdoors and related issues like stewardship, conservation and adventure.

A big part of the app is simply to be a foundation for some new features in the roadmap.

For example, today there’s a store finder, but in a future release, we’d look forward to opportunities for members to leverage geolocation in new ways; to find outdoor member events and gatherings, for example.

If you look at the Web site, there’s a lot of “Expert Advice” – we’re very excited about making some of that content available to members, and creating an environment for new expert advice that’s tailored to the mobile experience.

How is the proliferation of smartphones changing the way that retailers look at multichannel retail support?
While the sales angle is significant – this is a new channel for REI. There’s also the fact that in a store the guys with the green vests are helpful, knowledgeable, not pushy – REI wants the app to have the same feel to members. 

It should offer a clear view of why a certain product is appealing, but with a context of advice, reviews, and ability to see other products in a curated category.

What is the purpose of the app? For convenience? Or to act as an additional sales vehicle?
The purpose is twofold: sales and service.

While the sales angle is significant – mobile is a new channel for most retailers – REI wants the app to have the deliver the same helpful, knowledgeable, and pressure-free service as do the green vested REI employees you’ll find in all of REI’s retail locations.

The app, of course, offers a clear view as to why a certain product is appealing, but it takes the overall experience a step further by offering that information with a context of advice, reviews, and ability to see other products in a curated category.

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Giselle Tsirulnik is senior editor at Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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