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A recent survey into the functions that consumers most want to see in smartphone apps found that, aside from money saving offers, people value the ability to locate physical stores and to purchase items directly from the app.

Though the research, commissioned by Adobe, was a closed question so respondents were restricted in what they could answer, it highlights the local intent associated with activities on a smartphone.

To find out whether the UK’s top retailers are catering to this need, I tried out four shopping apps on Android to see how easy it is to find store location and contact details...

Argos

Argos cuts straight to the chase the moment you open up the app by asking you to setup a preferred store.

Assuming you agree, you are shown a list of your nearest stores to choose from, with the closest one automatically selected as your ‘current store’.

                      

The list of stores is also available as one of the main navigation tabs on the homepage, so Argos clearly understands the importance of offering local search within mobile apps.

However it doesn’t appear to be integrated with Google Maps, so although you can find out the address and opening hours for all its stores, you can’t enlarge the map or find out where it is in relation to your current location.

Tesco

Tesco also caters to the local needs of smartphone users by placing the link to the store finder at the top of the homepage.

Clicking on the left of the icon shows details of your nearest store, while clicking the magnifying glass allows you to search using a postcode or GPS.

The individual store pages then give the address, phone number, opening hours and details of facilities available (e.g. cash point).

                      

There is also a button that allows you to view the store location on Google Maps, and when you press it a handy warning pops up asking if you definitely want to navigate away from the Tesco app.

Overall it’s a near-perfect example of how to provide store details within a smartphone app.

John Lewis

John Lewis also gives you the store locator function as one of the main options on the homepage, and goes one better than Tesco by hosting the initial map within the app itself.

It takes a few seconds to load, but then allows you to view your own location as well as all the John Lewis stores in your vicinity. The stores can also be viewed on a list rather than the map.

                      

Store pages include the address and opening hours, as well as a useful click-to-call button and another that gives directions within Google Maps.

This is another excellent example of how to provide store information within a smartphone app.

Debenhams

Though the homepage is a bit busy for my liking, it does have a prominent link to the store finder tool.

Unfortunately the GPS wouldn’t work, but it was easy enough to scroll down past its stores in various locations including Azerbaijan, Iran, Bahrain and Cyprus before I found its two London outlets.

The design and layout of the store pages isn’t as attractive as John Lewis, but it does cram in a lot of useful information including an address, opening hours and a click-to-call telephone number.

There are also sub-sections for ‘Store Facilities’ – which includes details of things such as an alteration service, personal shopper service, in-store online ordering and disabled access – and ‘Store Guide’, which details the brands and product categories available on each floor in the store.

                      

This is all very useful information, but there are a few usability issues. For example, the descriptions of the store facilities use a tiny font, and if you try to navigate using the back button on your handset at any point you are sent back to the original list of store locations.

Furthermore, there is no interactive map function or link to Google Maps.

So although Debenhams has attempted to give consumers extremely detailed store information, there are several usability issues that need to be addressed.

In conclusion...

These are the only businesses among the top 20 UK online retailers that have Android apps, and its good to see that they all recognise the importance of providing a store finder tool.

All four display links to the store finder on the homepage and use GPS to show outlets in the user’s local area, although the GPS didn’t work when using the Debenhams app.

However the amount of information provided on individual stores did vary slightly between retailers. While all give the address and opening hours, Argos doesn’t provide phone numbers, while neither Argos nor Debenhams provide links to an interactive map.

In fact, Debenhams actually provides the most detailed store information, but it is severely let down by the poor usability of its app.

Overall, Tesco and John Lewis provide the best user experience, with Argos let down slightly due to the lack of an interactive map.

David Moth

Published 28 January, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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