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The combination of the catalogue format and the iPad (or other tablets) can be a powerful tool, potentially offering the best of both worlds for retailers.
When used well, catalogue apps combine the lean-back experience of the print catalogue with the interactivity and fast route to purchase of the web.
We have written about how effective print catalogues can be as a sales driver before, and the stats show it. 54% of consumers used them at least once in the past year before making a purchase.
I've been trying out some catalogue-style apps for the iPad from Ikea, Figleaves, Lakeland, Uniqlo and others to see how well these retailers are catering for iPad users.
The user experience varies significantly between these different apps, with some retailers doing little more than reproduciing a basic version of their catalogue for the iPad, while others have optimised for the device.
By far the best was the Figleaves catalogue, which combines an excellent user experience with an easy payment process.
Here are ten best practices for catalogue iPad apps...
Keep customers in the app
I don't like having to leave apps to view additional content, unless there is no other way, and the link is clearly labelled.
Many of the catalogue apps I've been trying out insist on taking you out of the app to view product pages, or to complete a purchase. In some cases, to the wrong page.
For example, clicking on products on the Littlewoods app takes you to the website's product pages. If you want to add multiple items to your basket, and continue shopping, this becomes a long, drawn out process.
Also, the drop-downs to select size and payment options are terrible to use on an iPad. If Littlewoods is having any problems with iPad conversions, here's one area to look at.
If you do take them away from the app, provide a route back in...
You shouldn't in the first place, but at least a clear link back to the catalogue, as in the previous screenshot will save some hassle.
Some of these apps are painfully slow. Downloading an updated version of some catalogues can take time (nearly ten minutes for Littlewoods), and retailers should watch the size of downloads:
Also, some apps are slow to use, with pages being slow to load as you flick through, as is the case with Lakeland's:
Provide alternative navigation routes
Some of these catalogue apps are pretty long. Ikea's is 376 pages of content, quite a lot to flick through. Providing a table of contents and a search will provide a quicker route for those that want it.
Also, as Figleaves does, providing an e-commerce-style menu is a good alternative:
Don't just scan the paper catalogue..
It's an iPad, an internet connected device which allows you to provide interactive content, video, link direct to product pages, so make the most of it.
Simply reproducing the catalogue is not good enough.
For that reason, the Ikea app is a disappointment. There are links to products, but not all of those listed in the catalogue can be listed, and the links seem like an afterthought. They take you out of the app onto a non-optimised site.
Optimise the payment process
While e-commerce is much easier on the iPad than mobile, there are still a few potential issues. For example, Verified by Visa forms can be a real pain, and must be a headache for retailers, though that's something I'll return to in a future post.
If a user has taken the time to download the app, browse through it and select a few products to buy, then make sure they can buy easily.
While many of the apps I looked at just send you out of the app to the website, Figleaves provides a much better example:
Make it nice and easy to flip between pages
A simple swipe should be enough to flip back and forth between pages of the catalogue, even clicking on an arrow would be easy.
However, Uniqlo has made this more difficult than necessary on its iPad catalogue by trying to recreate a real page turn.
It may look nice and authentic when you can see the corner of the page as you swipe, but it requires users to hold down the page and swipe right across. Too fiddly by far.
Make indexes more usable
Here's the index on the Uniqlo app. It lists the contents, but not in a way that makes it easy to scan, and the links are not at all obvious. Also, they're so close together that tapping the wrong one is too easy to do.
Figleaves makes its contents easier to scan by using colour and images, while links are easier to select.
Use video and interactive content
The iPad allows retailers to do so much more than traditional catalogues, while still retaining some of the same lean-back experience.
For example, we know that videos on product pages are a great sales driver, so why not use them via the app?
However, only Figleaves has any video on its catalogue app, and this is a bra fitting guide, rather than a product video.
Apply product page best practice
People want to see the same information on product pages that they would expect on the desktop version of the site, so provide returns and delivery information, size guides where necessary, as well as zoomable images.
Have I missed anything? Please leave a comment below...