Launching an iPad app can be a dubious proposition, with some getting massive numbers of downloads and others just getting ignored. How can you make sure yours gets the kind of attention you want?
We posed this question to Joaquin Ruiz, founder of Catalog Spree, which offers an iPad collection of popular catalogs. Launched in April 2011 with just seven catalogs aboard, the app now offers 228 catalogs and has been downloaded half a million times. It consistently ranks as the highest-rated shopping app for the iPad. Here are his tips for creating an app that users will love:
1. Understand your target user.
"Our user is a woman, 25 to 54," Ruiz says. "She spends a lot of time shopping, not from a transactional perspective, but for entertainment, and more and more for social interaction. People spend at least 20 and often 30 minutes on our app."
Much of the time, Catalog Spree shoppers are not looking to make a specific purchase, but to glean design ideas and inspiration, and to get a view in to current fashion trends. "It's not a search-find-buy experience," he says. So Catalog Spree is specifically designed to provide an elegant, fun browsing experience, and one where shoppers can easily share the items they like with their social networks.
This understanding led to the decision to design Catalog Spree specifically and only for the iPad, rather than also have iPhone and Android versions. The iPad, says Ruiz, is a "lean-back" experience, perfect for entertainment and casual browsing as opposed to shopping for specific items.
2. Make it as simple as you can without sacrificing functionality.
"We worked to keep Catalog Spree as simple and elegant as possible," Ruiz says. "We focused on what our target user would want, rather than just creating a lot of features. For instance, many friends and advisors suggested early on that Catalog Spree should connect to Facebook, but Ruiz took his time, and only recently added this capability. "People suggested adding a Facebook plug-in, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do these things. Before we committed that time and effort we had to make sure we knew what would be the optimum Facebook experience for our target user."
3. Measure everything.
"If a user clicks on a women's high-low hem maxi dress, I know that she picked the one in blue, how long she stayed on that page, whether she shared it, favorited it, or bookmarked it." Catalog Spree uses all this information, along with frequent A/B testing (in which different users are presented with slightly different versions of the same experience) to refine the app based on user preferences.
4. Do everything you can to build awareness.
It's a crowded App Store out there, so anything you can do to get users' attention is worthwhile. "The step I recommend the most is to make sure the product itself generates awareness by simply using it," Ruiz says. "Putting in social features and encouraging people to post on Facebook means that as people use the application they're generating awareness."
Advertising can work too, Ruiz says, but choose your advertising venues carefully. There's a lot of information available about which advertising channels reach which consumers. "Don't advertise blindly–find out what's out there that fits your lead demographic," he advises. In Catalog Spree's case, advertising on Words With Friends reaches target users, he adds.
Finally, look for ways your business partners can help raise your visibility. "In our case, we have a relationship with retail partners who publish catalogs, and they all have their own channels. So we leverage those awareness channels." For instance, Catalog Spree runs sweepstakes for its retail partners. "We run it from cradle to the end, and then we give the retailer an opt-in list of customers who want direct communications from them. It's a benefit to them, and they in turn start pumping up the volume on Catalog Spree."