February 19, 2012

Dear Catalog CEOs: The iPad Problem

Dear Catalog CEOs:

Here's a thought that keeps coming up:

  • "We really think the iPad is the future of cataloging, and yet, so few people truly use our app.  How do we get customers to use this thing?"
Here's the problem, folks.  We keep trying to encourage our "core audience" to do new and interesting things.  They don't want to do new and interesting things.

I've been talking about "Judy", "Jennifer", and "Jasmine" for weeks.  We made a choice, somewhere around 2001, to be "multichannel".  That choice sent us down a path that is difficult to reverse, now.  Our customer file, thanks to the co-ops, is disproportionately comprised of customers like Judy --- a 55+ rural shopper.  Now, be honest with yourself.  Put yourself in the head of this 59 year old customer.  What problem does your iPad app solve for this customer?  How does thumbing through the pages of a catalog on a digital device improve the experience, when this customer already has your catalog in her hand, and has enjoyed shopping that way for thirty years?

It's my opinion that Judy is not going to shop on an iPad.  If Judy represents more than half of your customer file, well, don't expect big-time iPad app success.

Let's move on to Jennifer.  She's somewhere around 43 years old, she's a part of the Google generation.  She scours the internet for the best deals, your catalog inspires her, but it inspires her to visit Google.  So, again, what problem does the iPad app solve for Jennifer?  Be honest.

This brings us to Jasmine.  Think of her as being a 27 year old mobile/social/local customer, one where the iPhone is never out of her hands.  This customer may well use your app.  Here's the problem, however ... how is she going to find out about your app?  You'll advertise your app in your catalog, you may advertise it on your website, you may even talk about it on Facebook or Twitter.  But if you are Cuddledown of Maine, for instance, you're using marketing materials tailored to a Judy/Jennifer audience to try to track down Jasmine.

The secret, of course, is to be where Jasmine is.  As catalogers, we're terrible at this, we know how to be where Judy is.

If we want iPad or app or iPhone or Android success, we're going to have to do two important things.
  1. Solve a problem that a catalog and/or website can't solve.  Be honest, what problem does your app solve that isn't solved by catalogs or e-commerce?
  2. We're going to have to develop a marketing plan that gets the app in front of the audience most likely to use it.  What is our marketing plan, folks?


  1. I think it could be critically important to monitor the device usage patterns here.

    Judy may end up using an iPad a lot. At first she'll stick with the catalog for shopping as you point out.

    But if she starts using an iPad for other things which it does extremely well where it does have a unique advantage for her (I'm thinking of the way that older people took to Facebook as a great way of keeping up with children and grand-children) then the game changes.

    Tablet devices may find more of a place in Judy's home than computers have. They'll be in the living room, not hidden away on a desk somewhere.

  2. You'll want to recruit a 100 people like "Judy" and watch how they use technology!


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