Net-A-Porter has launched a new mobile app, called The Netbook, that steps up the retailer's move into social commerce.
The iOS app is based on the ‘Live’ feature that sits on the site's homepage and acts like a carousel ticking through the latest products that customers have purchased.
Until now the product feed was anonymous, so the new app is an attempt to give customers an online identity on Net-A-Porter which then creates an additional social layer to the site and makes the recommendations more powerful.
Once they’ve created a profile users can create a wish list within the app by ‘loving’ different products and also follow other users by ‘admiring’ them.
The Netbook is currently invite-only and the launch was timed to coincide with London Fashion Week so that Net-A-Porter can sign up bloggers, stylists, designers and other members of the fashion glitterati. Everyone else will have to join a waiting list.
This allows Net-A-Porter to limit the number of people using the app so any technical issues can be more easily rectified, but it also creates a valuable air of exclusivity that will make the app more appealing to other consumers.
But while you can’t fault the logic behind the design, many brands and startups have attempted to create new social networking communities and apps but I can’t really think of any that have succeeded.
To find out whether Net-A-Porter will thrive where so many others have failed, I logged into The Netbook to begin the love-in...
The Netbook consists of five tabs that allow you to browse the product suggestions and manage your profile.
The two most important tabs are the Global Feed and the Admiring Feed, which show a real time list of the Net-A-Porter products that people are ‘loving’ within the app.
While the first tab is an unfiltered feed of everything that’s going on around the world, the Admiring Feed only shows activity from people you’ve chosen to follow.
This is where the app has the most potential for increasing sales, as if a well-known stylist or model ‘loves’ a pair of shoes then that endorsement will likely influence the purchase decisions of other users.
But that obviously only works if Net-A-Porter can sign up a decent number of users and encourage them to use the app on a regular basis.
The other tab worth noting is the search tool, which is fairly self-explanatory and allows you to browse either for designers, other users or products.
The product search results largely mirror the desktop site, though there are a few exceptions. For example, the app didn’t return any results when I searched for ‘dress’ while the desktop site returned 1,082 items.
The final two tabs just allow you to manage your profile or view your shopping bag.
As well as acting like a social network based on product recommendations, The Netbook is fully transactional so users can buy the items that they and their admirers love.
The product pages largely contain the same information as you’d find on the desktop site, including an identical description and several large, swipeable images. However they lack social sharing buttons and product recommendations (is it too much to show a product recommendation within a product recommendation?).
Also, though the app is transactional the checkout is hosted online rather than within the app itself. This means that it doesn’t show delivery details in the shopping bag, which is potentially an issue as delivery is £5 so some customers may be put off when they eventually get to the checkout.
Even so the process is very slick and it doesn’t result in the user having to reopen the app after the checkout, which was a fairly major flaw with Mr Porter's ‘The Tux’ iPad app.
The Netbook is an extremely user-friendly and intuitive app, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Net-A-Porter’s mobile team.
The interface is quick and easy to navigate, and it’s fun scrolling through the different feeds to discover the products that other people are ‘loving’.
It’s also difficult to find fault with the thinking behind the app, as social product recommendations from friends and celebrities are known to have a huge impact on purchase decisions.
Therefore Net-A-Porter has pulled off a real coup by managing to design a social networking app that’s both enjoyable to use and has commerce at its heart.
However the real test will be whether Net-A-Porter can attract the right kind of high profile users and motivate them to revisit the app on a regular basis.
The retailer currently attracts six million monthly visitors and has more than 2.6 million followers across its various social media accounts, but it’s a big challenge to get these people to become active users of a new iPad app.
In my view one of the major flaws at the moment is that The Netbook isn’t integrated with any other social networks, as this would obviously allow it to attract a wider audience and would certainly help generate excitement while it’s still at the invite-only stage.
That said, Net-A-Porter’s mobile manager Sarah Watson told me that her team has a long list of new app features – such as being able to filter the feeds based on products and locations - that they plan to start rolling out over the coming months.
Similarly, Net-A-Porter will be monitoring user behaviour and upgrades will be made based on user feedback.
As a result I’m convinced that the app will continue to offer an excellent user-experience, I’m just slightly dubious that it will manage to find a large enough audience to make it worth logging in on a regular basis.