Business

Shopping: Is there an app for that?

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This sponsored post is produced by Ramneek Bhasin, VP & GM, Product and Mobile, TheFind.

Our fascination with the smartphone is in full swing. We now live in a world where more phones are activated daily than there are babies born, and they seem to be just as demanding. We check our phones every six minutes for everything from buying tickets on Fandango to booking travel on Kayak to checking selfies on Instagram.

Not surprisingly, our smartphone obsession is fueling m-commerce. U.S. m-commerce transactions reached $41 billion last year, up nearly 70 percent from the year before.

Maturing of E-commerce

The core character of e-commerce (and m-commerce) has evolved, as it becomes a significant part of retail.

E-commerce got a toehold in tech and media but now drives billions of dollars in fashion, home & garden, toys & hobbies, and many more categories. Consumers are demanding way more than just the lowest price. They want ratings and reviews, local availability, sales notifications, coupons, etc.

App Avalanche

Shopping is naturally a key driver for m-commerce but is not developing like other areas. For starters, there isn’t an app dominating the market. The retail app market is hyper-fragmented, with each retailer taking a go-it-alone approach, or with niche apps in fashion, apparel, baby goods, etc.

Consumers prefer apps, but they are torn between owning a cornucopia of apps and just using the phone browser. In fact, about half use browsers to shop and the other half use apps. The trend, however, is clear. App usage for shopping has increased from 35% to 50% year over year.

Retailers Retreating

Quite ironically though, as app usage has increased, retailers have been abandoning app development or keeping app efforts static. The key reason is that retailers are finding it difficult to build and maintain and then market apps in a noisy app store environment to consumers. As a result, 25 percent of retailers abandoned their apps last year.

Unlike what Kayak is doing for travel, Fandango for movie tickets, Yelp for local businesses, and LinkedIn for jobs, the market is lacking a one-stop shopping app.

Why isn’t there a dominant shopping app? The simple answer is that it’s hard to build one right. There are hundreds of thousands of retailers offering millions of products that constantly need updating. It’s a daunting, big data challenge.

Large online retailers such as Amazon and eBay have popular shopping apps but only search inside their own respective marketplaces. This limits choices for consumers and fails to deliver a comprehensive mobile shopping experience.

The Changing Landscape of Shopping Search

The king of search, Google, chose to shut down its shopping apps (Google Shopper and Catalog) in favor of its new browser-based advertising format, Product Listing Ads (PLAs). While these PLAs have been widely successful for Google on desktops, the miniature images and text in the mobile experience are lacking.

Why is your usual search engine now serving you so poorly? The changes have nothing to do with you. It’s just that Google, Bing, and Yahoo are prioritizing increased advertising revenue over helping you shop!

If you simply use the browser search bar to do your shopping searches, the results you see now are drastically different and worse than a year ago. Over the last year, Google and Bing completely transformed their shopping results to show only advertisements, labeling these product tiles as “sponsored results.”

Now when you do a search, the product images you see on the results pages are ads delivered by a few retailers, selected by Google based on the highest bidded advertising rates. Some retailers, including a few major ones, are not advertisers on Google, so you may never see products from these stores on search results.

The second issue is that even with the retailers who are advertisers, budget and margin restrictions prevent them from advertising each and every product they sell. So now you can’t be sure you are seeing everything your favorite retailers are selling when you search Google, Bing, or Yahoo. These search engines are no longer showing you a full range of shopping choices or helping you find the lowest prices (from small retailers or from your preferred stores).

This reversal by search engines, to show just ads, has clearly impacted consumers’ shopping experience. Once shoppers figure out the difference, they shift their usage to a new search engine, one geared to providing the best results and experience for shopping search, and saving time and money. Changing search engines is now easier than ever because you don’t even have to shift the default search engine on your browser – all you have to do is to download the best shopping search app onto your smartphone and tablet and use the app for your shopping searches anywhere and everywhere.

Time will tell whether consumers will ultimately embrace a comprehensive shopping app, individual retailer apps, or continue to shop via the web browser. And we may not see a clear winner. However, we can almost all agree that our smartphones are a big part of our lives and no doubt will be more helpful shopping partners in the near future.

Ramneek Bhasin is the general manager mobile and vice president products for TheFind. TheFind.com is an omnichannel shopping app dedicated to searching all the stores on the Web to find just the right products you are looking to buy. For every search, TheFind shows the top products from the most popular stores right on the first page of results, and delivers a visually compelling and efficient online shopping experience from your browser, mobile device or tablet.


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