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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. 

Speed counts

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...

Graham Charlton

Published 3 October, 2011 by Graham Charlton

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

2565 more posts from this author

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Chelsea Blacker

Awesome post Graham.
Two ways to approach these apps:
1)Reactionary. A retailer thinks “We have a catalogue, lets make it an app quick!” (Ikea perhaps?)
2)Proactive. A retailer carefully plans their app (a la Figleaves)

What’s the point of an app really? To display products in a lifestyle environment already utilised in photography on the website? I’d suggest it’s just another avenue for sharing retailer’s products to the niche tablet market (and a few mobiles thrown in for good measure).

I don’t doubt Figleaves will make some sales through the app, but for most retailers wouldn’t it best to focus on user experience on the site (including making the site mega mobile& tablet-friendly) before blowing their budget on catalogue apps?

Lastly, I’ve struggled to find a decent digital publisher for magazines/catalogues, do you know who Figleaves uses (or have your own fav)? I've had experience with Ceros, and none of it positive from an SEO perspective.

If you haven’t seen Bill Bailey’s take on catalogues in the digital age, go to 00:45 here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggOa9aSG-Ow

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Chelsea,

Thanks for the comments, and I do agree that making the main site usable for tablet users is the best long term strategy.

However, I do think there's potential for the catalogue app strategy, if implemented well.

If you're a retailer and you see that a) a lot of your customers order from your catalogue, and b) you have a decent chunk of traffic from iPads, then it could be a good strategy.

almost 5 years ago

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jhaime

Ye, nice post and highly relevant. I talk to so many companies, in retail, services, travel, education, media and so on, you'd be surprised how unprepared the world is for this.

Which is why I applaud the new BBC website in beta mode, surely the way forward and especially as we eventually witness gesture control being integrated into desktop and tablet devices. The experience must be brand consistent and relevant across all platforms for the seamless experience we all demand.

I keep coming back to the HN landing page that pod1 built, slight improvements could be made, but all in all a brilliant retail access point. ASOS another prime example, pioneering in facebook and their shopping carts, alongside the mobile optimized site they have. HTML5 to kill the app store? Very likely for vendors to skip the apps in future, especially if a retailer.

Is toggling the way forward, accompanied with visual tickers then Graham?

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ Chelsea. The Figleaves app was developed by NN4M, who also did the Debenhams iPhone app.

almost 5 years ago

Conrad Morris

Conrad Morris, Director at Match Me Now Limited

Excellent article. Digital catalogues have, of course, been around for a long time now, but the iPad potentially can give them a new lease of life. I would also encourage retailers to look at how their tactical mini-catalogues (as opposed to their "big book") can be exploited in a digital format.

almost 5 years ago

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Julien Shirley

Thanks Graham, I was responsible for creating the Figleaves Catalogue Ipad App with the fantastic team at NN4M while Head of Ecommerce at Figleaves (I am now Head of MultiChannel at Signet). Really good to get feedback on this.

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Julien, you're welcome.

almost 5 years ago

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Grant Coleman

Interested what you think about creating a online catalogue that works through the browser whether the user is on a PC, Mac, laptop, or iPad. I have just helped NotOnTheHighStreet get their catalogues online with full "Add to Basket" functionality.
GIFTS: http://www.notonthehighstreet.com/catalogues/winter-gift-guide-2011/virtual
FASHION: http://www.notonthehighstreet.com/catalogues/fashion-aw-2011/virtual

The idea being, as Graham has highlighted, that consumers do not have to jump in and out of different webpages to view products, he is absolutely right, this leads to a disconnected consumer, and frustrating experience. With this example there is a browse mode, then a product mode, via a dynamic product window, the reader can go to checkout or continue shopping the catalogue.

You can use the same link online, on iPad, and - also iPhone - it works across devices, no need to wait for a download in an APP. You do have to be internet connected though - as of course you would be to find the catalogue on the website, this means no reading on the tube, but on offline reader cannot buy anything online anyway!

you would have all seen online catalogues before, but one that can deliver browser fed solutions on multiple devices might be new! Interested to hear the feedback

Regards
Grant

almost 5 years ago

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