Appy Holidays

9 11 2011

Everyone remembers their first time. Rock concerts. Beer. Airplane flight. Wild thing.

I also remember my first app. It was a mobile app for Twitter so that I could tweet on the run and keep up with my friends. It was an incredible novelty. But then again, all apps were novelties in 2007.

Today, though, apps are a nickel a dozen, unless you have to buy them. There are about a half-million iPhone apps alone, with Android programmers scurrying to catch up. My iPhone4 runneth over with apps that run the gamut from cycling mileage logs to bar code and QR readers, news, sports scores, and stock portfolios.

But now the app market has matured to the point of there being disposable apps. I saw this earlier in the year when I attended the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas. They had a specific app for the event, showcasing vendor booths, seminars, after-parties and the like. But once the event was over, the app was worthless. Screen clutter.

This Christmas we are going to see a flurry of disposable holiday apps, designed to help drive traffic and make shopping easier. Oh, and one more thing: Make the sale.

This may no longer be rocket science, but I still have to shout, “Bazinga!” Genius. Plug in the cash register.

These apps come at no small expense. With app development running from $10k to $50K (depending on features), this is no small investment. Still, if it sets your brand or store apart from the others, then it is money well spent. Imagine a Walmart app that had a built-in bar code scanner. Store-specific maps and product locations. Item features and pricing.

This is somewhat analogous to retailers publishing (and some still do, as evidenced by last Sunday’s paper) a holiday gift-giving catalog (like Target and Walmart do for toys). Except for one thing: It is infinitely better. For one, I don’t have to tote it with me. Second, it’s very green. And three, I can keep it out of the kids’ hands. “Here, I’ll just circle everything.”

But like this year’s poinsettia and wrapping paper, it will drop its red leaves and pretty bows, ready for the digital dumpster. Because apps, for all their initial wow factor, are now just another voice in the fray. Temporary foliage. Window dressing.

But don’t think for a minute this diminishes their worth. I have gone on record for two years as saying it is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when everyone will have an app. There really is no choice in the matter.

Wait. I said that about websites fifteen years ago.

So for the 50% of us who have smartphones, shopping this holiday season is likely to be easier. It’s also going to have a little harder sell, because no one is going to invest in apps like these without putting on a little pressure.

Which makes me wonder where this could all go. Why not develop apps that truly track our location within the store, as well as items we have viewed and/or selected. Suddenly the retail app begins to sound a little like Amazon.com’s suggestion engine. “Hey, we know you like this item, but we’ll bundle it with two others and give you a deal.” “People who bought this item also bought that item.” “Here’s a little coupon just for you…don’t tell anyone, OK?”

Yeah, I’m really starting to like this. It’s almost enough to make me appily want to go shopping. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Dr “Veni Vidi Visa” Gerlich

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