July 3, 2014 Last Updated 8:13 am

Retailers shun aggregated catalog solutions now preferring to launch their own branded apps

Some retailers, though, have yet to launch their own branded catalog apps into the Apple App Store, depending on mobile-friendly websites to reach tablet owning consumers

The early days of Internet publishing and the early days of the tablet publishing platform have many similarities, one of which is that the first digital efforts by many retailers were part of collective efforts from vendors and publishers. Google, for instance, launched its own catalog app into the Apple App Store early on, before finally giving up on it almost exactly a year ago.

Many of the first retail catalog apps were from vendors who helped get a retailer’s catalog onto the iPhone or iPad. One of the very first was for Pottery Barn which had its catalog launched into the App Store in April of 2010 by PixelMags. The app was, as I described it then, a complete mess and probably turned the company off to more such efforts as neither Pottery Barn, nor its parent Williams Sonoma, currently have digital catalog apps inside the Apple App Store today (PixelMags, though, still has eight apps that show up under its name in the Catalog category).

Nordstrom-app-iPadOne of the oldest catalog apps in the App Store, Nordstrom The Catalogs received an update today. The app was originally released in July of 2011, probably at the height of the third party catalog app phase. The app was released by the Synapse Group, a San Francisco agency, and was updated a number of times early on, the last one in March of last year. One sort of expected this app to be gone, as since its release Nordstrom has launched several other apps under its own developer account name. The Synapse Group website doesn’t even mention their work for Nordstrom anymore, even though this app continues on.

Retailers, unlike many publishers, want their apps to show up under their own name as they want to totally control their brand. Things get confusing for consumers when links from app descriptions go to app vendors rather than the retailer.

Initially, the idea many app developers, including Google, had was to create one giant app that housed many different catalogs.

Consumers would then only have to go to one app to find all their favorite brands. The idea probably sounded good for five minutes until competing aggregated catalog apps started to be launched. Which app contained which retailers? Eventually retailers realized, just as they did in the early days of the Internet, that they needed their own digital products.

The transition continues, though, as many retailers still have yet to launch their own branded apps – Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table, for instance, still are to be found within the Catalogue by TheFind originally launched in 2011. Instead, many retailers have decided that mobile-friendly websites will be sufficient to serve consumers. While it is true that a good, responsive website is necessary, it is not the same as a digital catalog.

Why the failure to move to tablet catalogs? I think it is the same reason many B2B publishers have been slow to launch their own digital editions: small production staffs geared towards traditional print catalogs mailed to customers. Because of this, some digital publishing platforms have recognized the opportunity and are now approaching retailers and other businesses to demonstrate their app solutions, just as they previously had targeted magazine publishers.

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