October 24, 2013 Last Updated 6:59 am

While aggregation apps fail to take hold, retailers continue to develop branded catalog apps

While the catalog apps that aggregate many retailer’s catalogs into one Flipboard-like presentation may have failed to take hold, retailers have not given up on using tablets or smartphones to promote their goods through digital catalogs.

Saks-iPad-lgThe release of iOS 7 has presented a chance to update retailer apps, sometimes to simply tweak the code, in other cases to change up the formula.

Saks Fifth Avenue for iPad, which was originally launched two years ago in October, has been updated to add in PayPal payments and to fix the usual bugs.

Nordstrom, too, has its own iPad app (Nordstrom for iPad) which launched about a year after the Saks app. Like many publishers, Nordstrom originally signed up with a third party to create an app – one that is still in the App Store – Nordstrom The Catalogs. That app appeared not under the retailer’s name, but under the vendor’s account, Synapse Group. That company has four catalog apps under its name inside Apple’s App Store.

Eventually, I’m sure the retailer realized that if the purpose of creating the app was marketing it made little sense to be releasing apps under other company’s names.

Some retailers have brought their customer magazines to the Newsstand, as well. Harrods Magazine was among the first Newsstand apps from a retailer when it was launched early last year (the Newsstand was launched by Apple in the last quarter of 2011). This app was updated last night due to iOS 7.

Initially it appeared that the future of tablet catalogs might be aggregation apps. Google and others launched apps that brought catalogs from many retailers into one location. The concept seemed logical, after all, many consumers have a central place where they store their store catalogs for later viewing. But retailers learned a little quicker what publishers are only now discovering: benefits most from the aggregation app is the aggregator, not the content producer.

Google announced it would discontinue its Google Catalogs app in August, but other apps still are in the App Store.

Stylewhile-iPad-lgA new app, Stylewhile, tries to put a twist on the retailer catalog. This iPad app allows the shopper to “fit clothing to their specific body type before purchase.” As a guy who is always a half size off from whatever I try on I am naturally skeptical.

But the app does allow the shopper to mix and match outfits and place them on models in the app.

“Our dream is to build an app that helps women to find and buy the right items so that there would be a lot less of those ‘I have nothing to wear’ moments or ‘this looks different in person than it did online’!” Stylewhile CEO Jutta Haaramo said.

The first retailer to try on the Stylewhile app is Saks Fifth Avenue. One wonders if the vendor is allowing the retailer to try out the app on a trial basis. If they like it, I would expect the retailer to want to incorporate the idea into their own app, rather than drive customers to an app under another company’s name.

But don’t be surprised to see more apps like this one, where the software solution gets the top billing. Retailers, and publishers, often forget that the goal is to promote their own brands, not build somebody else’s business.

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