MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
Hello, and welcome to my blog and the digital home for my thoughts. Most know me as @themaria, my handle across most social media sites and communities. My actual, given name is Maria Ogneva, and I love writing, traveling, eating, and spending time with my new husband.
I am passionate about how social media is changing the way we communicate, help and relate to each other, share news and make the world a smaller, more hospitable place. I work at Salesforce as Director of Product Marketing on the Communities product, where my job is to help customers (and the world at large) to be successful in building communities. I learn every day, and I share my thoughts and personal growth here.
Please note that the views expressed here are my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or any of our clients.
A solid mobile application is one of the best ways for businesses to be social, while using location-based services, leveraging native mobile apps and reaching folks on the go. However, a lot of mobile apps leave a lot to be desired, and sometimes it seems that companies are making them just to say they did it. When does it make sense to create one? What are some good examples of what’s being done out there? In this post, I review a couple of iPhone apps for the fashion world, in terms of what works and what still needs work. As you may know, most recently I consulted fashion brands and retailers in their social and community endeavors alongside Macala Wright, via FashionablyMarketing.me, which is why I am focusing this discussion on fashion apps. However, you can use the same guidelines to evaluate mobile apps in just about any industry.
Unfortunately, most fashion applications that I have discovered, don’t go much further than duplicating online content for the mobile environment. For example, the Style.com app allows you to view most recent runway shows from the biggest designers, showcased during Fashion Weeks in NYC, Milan, Paris and London. It also includes sections for: Look of the Day, Party Coverage and Style File Blog – in short, regurgitation of online content, with a strong focus on shows, designers and celebrity. Apart from voting on the look of the day, there is nothing interactive, and nothing that allows the user to use her creativity and really interact with the pieces, connect with others and become a part of a community. The application fails to use either the native iPhone apps like email or camera, or GPS or connect with shopping opportunities and other users nearby – all a missed opportunity. To top things off, each time I tried to load the Look of the Day, the application crashed.
Style.com, is one of the largest (in terms of unique visitors) mainstream fashion destinations online (850k monthly uniques in September ’09, according to compete.com, down from 1.8 mullion in July – The Huffington Post, by comparison, did 8.35 million uniques during Sept 09). Clearly, traffic is slipping as the fashion web is becoming more and more fragmented and saturated, and sites that engage its users, such as Polyvore.com, are growing in popularity. Style.com should be allowing users to personalize the products they see, merchandising them into outfits (in a Polyvore fashion), adding them to wishlists and mobile shopping lists. Local is also an important aspect of a successful fashion and retail app. Style.com should be using its mobile app to help consumers engage with the content and other community members in person and / or on their mobile screen.
Unfortunately, Style.com is not the only fashion entity that has opted to simply extend the online experience to the palm of the viewer’s hand, instead of taking an opportunity to be interactive, creative and social. For example, luxury fashion house Chanel has just a few of the same content options: video of the latest runway show, store locator, newsfeed and a pretty slick online lookbook. I was happy to see the lookbook take advantage of the built-in motion sensor to display an accessory detail view when the phone is flipped.
Even though photos and videos are beautiful and visually stimulating, and the mobile experience extends the luxury look and feel of the online and offline experiences, it does little to be a truly successful mobile app that taps into the benefits of the iPhone platform.
When playing with the D&G app, I had a distinct feeling that I had seen it before. Yes, the experience was very similar to the above two apps: a newsfeed, fashion show feed, lookbooks, beautiful wallpaper and a store locator. Looks exquisite, offers no new information or functionality. If this app went away, I wouldn’t even notice; I would just keep going to the site for all the same information.
Luxury shopping site Net-a-Porter goes a step further in usability by offering a mobile commerce functionality. For each product, you get a detailed verbal description, photo view from several vantage points with that piece styled into ensembles. From each product page, you can send it via email, add to shopping bag (and consequently order), add to wish list, or email Net’s fashion advisors directly. It also offers a beautifully laid-out mobile publication that is reminiscent of the traditional glossy, offering on each page an overview of a particular fashion story or trend, highlighting featured items. What would take this layout even further would be the ability to click through to the featured items’ product pages.
The Gilt Groupe
Similarly, the Gilt Groupe, a successful members-only online sample sale destination, extends its shopping functionality to the mobile app, allowing the user to peruse daily sales, add products to the shopping cart and purchase directly through the app. Even though the Gilt Groupe and Net-a-Porter handle mobile commerce exceptionally well, there is still room to introduce a level of creative personalization like the two apps below handle beautifully.
The Gap StyleMixer
The Gap StyleMixer is a much more exciting app, in my opinion, and features a slick, easy to navigate UI. It really allows the user to get creative, play stylist, add her personality, interact with the products and the community – essentially all the aspects that I would add to an app if I was to develop one. In your “fitting room”, you can create outfits by mixing and matching Gap’s items with your own. This tool uses the native camera app and allows the user to add content from her own closet by either snapping a photo or using the photo library. You can fully style an outfit with accessories, shoes, tops and bottoms.
The app also features Facebook Connect, which allows you to sign in via Facebook, share outfits with your Facebook friends and get their immediate feedback, as well as comment on other users’ outfits, and “borrow” them for inspiration. The community feature displays popular and featured sets from other users. In short, the whole merchandising and sharing approach is reminiscent of Polyvore. The promise of your set becoming popular gives you the impetus to create, come back and create again. And they didn’t forget about the men: you can easily toggle between man and woman from the dashboard. The store finder, unlike the apps described above, captures your location via GPS and maps the closest stores via an interactive Google Maps interface – now that’s convenient! The “offers” section didn’t produce any results for me, but I would imagine it displays national, as well as local incentives and sales. The one thing that’s missing is mobile commerce module, as well as the ability to click on individual items in a set, or edit sets after saving them.
Stylish Girl / Cool Guy
I think one of the best apps in the space (at least in my experience) is Stylish Girl (or Cool Guy for the gentlemen). Not associated with a brand or an existing online publication, this app is focused squarely on adding value and usability immediately by allowing you to organize your closet, pack for a trip right from the your iPhone, shop hot looks and figure out how those new fabulous clothes will look with what you already own. Similar to the Gap app, it takes advantage of the native camera app and allows you to capture your existing clothes by type, arranging them in your closet. If you are anything like me, you find clothes that you didn’t know you had in the back of the closet. In fact, every time I move, I “go shopping” in my own closet. The “My Closet” option allows you to see all of your clothes, arranged by type in rows, with just a swipe of a finger. You can also mix and match items to pack into a suitcase for travel, using “My Suitcase” option. Similar to Gap’s application, it features Facebook Connect for easy sign-in and sharing of outfits. This application is extremely sticky, because it provides an easy solution to a real problem of closet organization and outfit visualization, and can keep a user coming back daily to use this functionality. Once in the app, the user will be tempted to thumb through the hot new styles and purchase them through a built-in shopping engine.
In the Fashion Mall module, you can browse by category, discover, buy immediately, or add to Wish Bag. The Fashion Lounge offers news, reviews and an entire directory of hot looks and celebrity looks, which you can also buy or add to an outfit or Wish Bag. As in the Gap application, you can flex your creative muscle and mix and match the things from your Wish Bag with your existing items, for a smarter shopping experience. By allowing you to visualize hot looks inside of your closet, this app influences purchase intent and removes the question of “What will I wear this with?” Even though the app does not have the community features I’d like to see (you can’t meet other Stylish Girls), it allows you to export your outfits to Facebook and receive instant fashion feedback from your friends. Like the Gap app, Stylish Girl understands that fashion is all about visual merchandising, and a successful fashion app should help the shopper address the issues of merchandising, mixing and matching, organization and instant community feedback.
To sum up:
Not everyone should have a mobile app; to create one because everyone else is creating apps is not a good enough reason. How do you know if you should put an app on the app store? Ask yourself: