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Mobile Apps Serve, Entertain Shoppers

Let’s say a DIYer named Shelby wants to make some home updates.

She’s trying to imagine her bathroom with a new color scheme and thinks fresh curtains and a stylish coffee table would upgrade her living room’s look.

Shelby decides to start her shopping with the device in her hand. She opens an app on her smartphone and snaps a picture of her bathroom. Within minutes, she’s tried 10 different paint colors on the walls in the photo she took. Plus, she’s having fun.

A quick look at her local hardware store’s app tells Shelby paint rollers are on sale and she still has $80 left on her gift card. So, she plans to shop local because she knows she can get the paint she wants, save money and show a local retailer some love.

Then she heads to her living room and begins scrolling through products on the Target app. The app lets her try out furniture, rugs and curtains in the room virtually through her phone’s camera.

For customers like Shelby, apps offer an expanding array of features that provide a personalized shopping experience. Read on to learn from retailers who use mobile apps to engage customers before they leave their homes and what your operation could gain by developing your own app.

Personal Service, Greater Loyalty

Customers have long been walking store aisles with their eyes on their smartphones, checking out competitor pricing, comparing product features and creating project shopping lists.

One of your jobs has been prying shoppers away from their phones by offering store experiences they can’t find in a giant home improvement warehouse or online store. You’ve provided project know-how, friendly customer service, niche products and creative in-store events.

Keeping up with technology helps draw people in and helps people understand we’re on top of our game.
—Jacob Buckingham, Bucks & Bolts Hardware & Outfitters

But your competitors have only gotten better at wooing your shoppers, and they’re entering customers’ homes, offices and daily commutes via their smartphone screens. Then, the big retailers are getting the shoppers to go to physical stores after tinkering with the apps. Did you realize you could do the same?

Bucks & Bolts Hardware & Outfitters in Blossvale, New York, has offered its customers a store mobile app for two years.

bucks and bolts
Bucks & Bolts Hardware & Outfitters in Blossvale, New York, has used a mobile app for two years to improve its rewards program and grow customer interactions with the store.

When he was attending his distributor’s buying show a few years ago, Bucks & Bolts store manager Jacob Buckingham learned about a company that creates custom mobile apps for independent businesses like his.

He and his team realized an app would offer solutions for Bucks & Bolts in two areas: customer loyalty and promotions.

It would also allow the independent store to use technology to be more competitive with other businesses in the area.

“The biggest thing I strive for here is to stay current,” Buckingham says. “The younger generation especially wants to go to a store that’s fresh and relevant. Keeping up with technology helps draw people in and helps people understand we’re on top of our game.”

The app is a customer service tool that offers frequent interactions with shoppers without leaving home.

In fact, one of the app’s most popular features is a spin-to-win game that some customers play daily to win small prizes, such as a screwdriver or bottle of windshield wiper fluid, which they have to pick up in the store. The game has grown store customer counts.

As businesses try to connect with customers, I think this is one of the better, low-cost methods.
—Jacob Buckingham, Bucks & Bolts Hardware & Outfitters

People pop into Bucks & Bolts weekly to redeem their free prizes, and once the shoppers are in the store, they typically buy other products, too.

“Offering as many services as we can, including a mobile app, helps people feel more comfortable in the store,” Buckingham says.

Bucks & Bolts needed to simplify its customer loyalty program. Because the app is easy for the store to customize, Buckingham says it has been a convenient solution.

The app has saved the store time and money, costing less to maintain than Bucks & Bolts’ prior customer rewards program, Buckingham says.

It also collects important analytics, such as how frequently users shop at the store.

The Bucks & Bolts app connects to the store’s POS system to track customer purchases, rewards points, gift certificate balances and any free products shoppers win through the spin-the-wheel game.

Buckingham can track the data the app collects, and customers get the benefit of viewing individual, personalized versions of much of that information.

What You Can Do

Mobile apps are a crucial tool that many retail stores use to connect with customers. And they are more accessible than you may think.

bucks and boltsBucks & Bolts
The Bucks & Bolts mobile app is fully customizable and allows the store to manage its customer rewards program and collect customer data.

  • Customers and Bucks & Bolts staff can see the total year-to-date spending and rewards points earned for each customer. Customers earn a point for every dollar spent.
  • The app offers several ways customers can win prizes. There is a spin-to-win game, a place to check in to the store and a spot to refer friends by entering their email addresses.
  • The app gives the store promotional opportunities also. There is a tool in the app that allows Bucks & Bolts to promote special deals on products or send coupons to customers.

In addition, customers can view special offers and use digital coupons on the app instead of clipping paper coupons and having to remember to bring them to the store. They can also earn rewards by referring friends to the app.

Bucks & Bolts can also use push notifications to alert customers to sales or send coupons if customers haven’t been to the store in awhile.

And the app provides custom reports that Buckingham checks monthly to track the number of people downloading the app, which features are most popular and how often they use it.

Buckingham monitors the app like he would a website, checking to make sure the information on it is up to date and relevant.

The customer rewards part of the app alone has made the price of the app worthwhile, growing customer interactions while saving time employees used to spend on managing the rewards program in house.

“The app is a service that could benefit any business,” Buckingham says. “The return on investment has made it well worth it. As businesses try to connect with customers, I think this is one of the better, low-cost methods.”

What the Big Boxes Are Doing

Large chain retailers, including home improvement giants Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards, are expanding the uses for their mobile apps. Many of the app features are similar, while others are more creative. Learn about some of what they’re offering so you can stay aware of how your competitors are using technology to improve customer service.

home depot appHome Depot

  • The Home Depot app provides accessibility features, such as voice product search, and tools for making in-store and online shopping more convenient.
  • Shoppers can virtually place product images in a home when a customer views portions of the room through a phone camera.
  • The app uses Apple Business Chat to answer customer questions live.
  • The app allows shoppers to save notes and products to digital lists.
  • Professional customers can get pro-specific special offers and bulk purchasing options.
  • Customers can use the app to take photos of a product, and the app will identify the items and recommend similar products.

target appTarget

  • Target’s mobile app provides an array of features, including mobile payment options, store location information, online shopping and augmented reality.
  • Customers can shop for products by theme, such as “Back to School” or “On to College.”
  • The app allows users to see products, such as furniture, in 3D pictures.
  • The augmented reality tool, See It in My Space, lets customers view furniture, drapes, lamps and rugs in the home using a smart device camera.
  • Users can create and manage gift registries and shopping lists.
  • Through the app, shoppers can scan barcodes to check for special offers on products or view more information about the items.

About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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