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Powell's iPhone App Lifts Store Sales, Tesco Tests Its Own

  |  May 25, 2011   |  Comments

App helps patrons locate books in labyrinthine Portland, Oregon bookstore.

Powell's Books and U.K. supermarket giant Tesco are attempting to take mobile marketing off the streets and sidewalks and bring it into the store. For Powell's,a new app has already increased bricks-and-mortar sales while offering publishers a geotargeted advertising opportunity.

powells2In early April, the independent book seller launched its presence on an app platform by Meridian, a startup that offers retailers and venues in-location navigation tools for patrons. Powell's customers who have downloaded the iPhone app (soon to be available on Android) can get turn-by-turn directions to books after searching for a title while inside the brand's flagship Portland, OR location.

That store, dubbed "City of Books," takes up an entire block in the City of Roses' northwest district and offers more than 1 million novels, biographies, and other titles.

"You've always needed a map to get around the store," Mark Pennington, e-commerce marketing manager at Powell's, told ClickZ. "We have always had eight or nine info desks around the store for people who say, 'Hey, I am looking for this book. How do I get there?' This is a way for our staff to untether from the computer and spend a lot more time being accessible to customers."

powells3Pennington said signage around the store has helped spread the word about the Meridian app, while customer service reps with iPhones have been demonstrating it to patrons. Powell's Facebook (106,000 "likes") and Twitter (28,000 followers) accounts have also been leveraged to push the initiative.

"We've had several thousand downloads of the app at this point," he said. "What's really interesting is the level of engagement that the users are showing. We are seeing around 12 page views per visit on the app. The average time spent on the app is around six to seven minutes."

The mobile app not only helps customers find a book - a proverbial needle in a haystack in this store's case - but it also routes them to the widest aisles for foot traffic management and merchandising reasons. In terms of the latter, Pennington explained, the widest aisles include new release and special offer display racks while narrower walkways do not.

"You have this ability to influence how people move about the store," he said. "Eighty percent of the app usage has been in the store. The other 20 percent has been for people game-planning before they get to the store."

But what about affecting purchase behavior? Since sales during March and April are normally roughly the same because there is little-to-no seasonal influence on consumers' book-shopping habits, Pennington said he was eager to compare pre-app (March) vs. post-app (April) numbers.

"We saw an uptick in sales for titles that were searched in April compared to their sales during March," he said.

Armed with engagement and sales results, Pennington and his team are now meeting with major publishers to sell banner ads via the app. They'll pitch the scenario of targeting Powell's shoppers who search for, in one example, a back-list science fiction novel with an ad for a new sci-fi release.

"We needed some data behind it to say, 'This is the kind of impact an advertisement would have,'" the e-commerce manager said. "We took a month's worth of data. The numbers we saw are `compelling…It's difficult to capture that moment when an in-store customer shows what he or she is interested in. The app enables a publisher to serve an ad to a customer who has just declared his or her intent to purchase in that category."

Pennington added, "Book selling is a long-tail endeavor. There is just a ton of back-list titles that have been out for years, but it is a huge part of the business. For a store like Powell's compared to a Barnes & Noble, it's…a bigger part of our business. Most app searches so far are on back-list titles."

Tesco's GPS-Enabled App Directs Patrons to Products

On Tesco's blog Monday, the U.K.-based retail giant announced a store-mobile-app effort similar to Powell's.

Tesco's app shows users where products are via a store map, guides them to the items via the shortest route, and also displays where they are currently standing in the shop. The app, available to Android users, is being piloted at a northeast London location, where the brand is recruiting customers to participate in the test.

Tesco claims its "Satnav" app is accurate to within 3 meters, or 3.2 yards. The U.K. supermarket is employing a GPS-enabled system, while Powell's version relies on a more statically-built program.


Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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