Retail Largely Missing on the iPad

The e-commerce community’s reaction to the iPad is simply underwhelming. When the iPad launched last week, I fully expected to be blown away by the awesome applications that big brand retailers would build for it. After all, many of the major retailers offer iPhone applications already, so I just assumed they would be creating iPad applications. Not so, it seems.

While Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Target all have iPhone applications, their presence on the iPad is distinctly missing. Worse, some of these retailers haven’t updated their Web sites to be compatible with the iPad. Amazon, for instance, tells me to download the Adobe Flash Player in order to watch movie previews. Apple’s reason for not allowing the Flash Player on their app is a debate for another time. Regardless of that excuse, Web sites should be made compatible with the iPad’s browser.

The only applications from our sector you can find (as of this writing) are Gilt Groupe, Gap, and eBay. Let’s briefly look at those three retailers’ applications.

EBay’s Application

“Immediate Payment,” for some reason, isn’t supported. When you try to buy an item that requires immediate payment, you’ll be asked to visit eBay’s Web site. You aren’t even redirected to the browser, but simply asked to visit the site on a browser. That’s kind of an odd experience.

“Buy It Now,” however, seemed to work on the iPad. I might not be well versed enough in eBay’s language to understand the difference, or why one works and one doesn’t.

Logging in to eBay lets you access My eBay from within the application. This includes lists of items from your “buying” and “selling” lists.

The eBay application is intended to be a dashboard for your activity, and a supplement to the normal browser experience. The browsing support is limited, and lists only the top items in a few select categories. The search feature is fully functional, however. From search, you can browse and bid on items.

Overall, the feel of the application is really boring and uninspired. Anyone looking to experience eBay in a fun and different way will have to wait until someone else uses its API to create a cool application. Until then, we’re stuck with a functional, but uninspired, eBay iPad application.

Gap’s Application

Trying to be more inspirational, Gap launched an application centered around its Gap 1969 Premium Jeans campaign. The application does many things right, but overall it’s a big mess of an application.

To be fair, only Gap’s “home screen” is a mess. The rest of the application is actually fairly well written.

The home screen is a big ad campaign that users can scroll through. When the user taps one of the ad components, a pop-up box either displays a small ad campaign, along with “buy” and “share” buttons, or a live streaming video. The problem is that this large ad spread scrolls infinitely – it will simply cycle if you keep scrolling in one direction. This leads to a bit of “scrolling vertigo,” and because the actual campaigns on this page are so small, it’s hard to tell that it is simply repeating until you’re already frustrated by it.

On the other hand, the application handles e-commerce fairly eloquently. Gap has managed to find some shortcuts to application building by relying on their Web site to provide most of the browsing and buying functionality. While browsing is done using native iPad user interface elements, things change when the user clicks “buy.” A page curl opens up on the page, revealing product details and the “add to bag” button.

This functionality and the subsequent cart and check out processes come directly from the Web site and aren’t native iPad components. This makes the system a bit clunkier than it should, but it’s an understandable trade-off for Gap: it was much quicker to develop this application by leveraging the Web site’s code directly. The integration is smart and seamless. Additionally, Gap’s application “feels” more like it belongs on the iPad, versus the bland eBay application.

Gilt Groupe

Of the three retail applications that came out of the gate first, the Gilt Groupe’s application is the clear winner.

The application allows full browsing and buying from within Gilt Groupe’s native iPad application. It “feels” like an iPad application, owing to the graphical transitions that happen when the user taps to view products.

An integrated shopping cart looks great and is easy to get to from within the application, and the entire experience works really well. There are even push notifications, showing that Gilt really gave some thought to what iPad features it could use, beyond simply replicating a Web experience.

My only frustration with the application: it’s seemingly impossible to return to the home screen of the application.

It’s a Start, But a Really Slow One

The retail applications available are disappointing, especially when you look at the e-commerce-enabled applications offered in other sectors of the market (such as gaming and content delivery). Moreover, it’s disappointing that the major retailers haven’t updated their Web sites to ensure functionality with the iPad.

One of our clients shows “iPad” as the number three operating system visiting their site since the iPad launched. Luckily, they enabled their site to use HTML5 instead of Flash, and are reaping the benefits from the early adopters.

I’m never one to tell people to jump on the bandwagon of every technology. But if history shows us anything, it’s that new Apple products are to be ignored at our own peril. So, make your Web sites compatible (or petition Apple to allow Flash), and start deciding if your business model would benefit from an iPad application.

Questions, thoughts? Leave them below.

Until next time…


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