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US book retailer Barnes & Noble has just launched an iPhone app which allows users to shop from their mobiles, as well as using the camera to search for products.

The retailer already has a mobile commerce site, but the iPhone app has the potential to deliver a richer experience for customers. I've been taking a closer look...

Layout / navigation

The app is well laid out and uncluttered, with the iPhone navigation used effectively to display four options; discover, search, store finder and cart: 

Barnes & Noble iPhone app

The app isn't really made for browsing, so unless you enter a search term, you are limited to the lists of bestsellers, new releases and recommended titles.

Product search

You can search for books, DVDs and music by keyword, and this works well enough, though the app could do with some filtering and sorting options for search terms that return a large number of results.

What is really clever about the app is the use it makes of the iPhone's camera, Users can take a photo of a book or DVD cover, then the app will find products that match:

Barnes & Noble app photo search

If the photo is OK, select use, and Barnes & Noble will show you any matching product pages. 

This is an excellent feature which will allow people to use their mobiles for price comparison. After all, taking a photo is much easier than browsing and typing in search terms. It also gives Barnes & Noble the chance to steal some custom from retailers with less competitive prices.

Product pages

The product pages on the app are excellent and provides the information that shoppers will be looking for, including price and delivery details as well as user ratings, while keeping the page simple.

Barnes & Noble iPhone app product page

Shoppers have the option of buying online through the app, or else they can choose to reserve and collect in store; a useful option for shoppers who may not be too far away from a Barnes & Noble outlet.

To make this easier, the app links to the store locator from the product page, though you can also access it directly, and will use the iPhone's GPS to find the nearest store. If required, you can get directions via Google Maps.

Checkout process

When you want to make a purchase, the app will transfer you to the iPhone's Safari browser to enter the checkout:

Barnes & Noble app checkout

This is the point at which the user experience suffers on a few of the mobile commerce apps and websites I have looked at, as you are often sent to a website that has not been designed for mobiles, making purchases more difficult.

However, this app just sends you to the retailer's existing mobile site, with a checkout that has been designed for the purpose:

This makes entering address and payment details far easier on a mobile phone, and Barnes & Noble also doesn't insist on registration for new customers, something which saves shoppers extra effort.

Conclusion

Barnes & Noble has produced an excellent mobile commerce app, which, with features like the product search by photo and the store locator, makes the most of the iPhone's functionality.

It offers an excellent user experience for mobiles, from searching for products to going through the checkout process, making it was easy as possible to buy from a mobile.

Graham Charlton

Published 4 August, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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