iOS based In-Store Catalog System

Client Overview and Background

The client is one of the leading fashion based accessory retailers with significant presence across the U.S. Their products are sold through a network of around 5,000 family-owned specialty stores, as well as more than 150 company owned retail stores from coast to coast.

Competitive pressures and socio-economic diversity have created an environment to provide a personalized, reachable and ubiquitous access to product information to enhance customer reach, service quality and operational efficiency. The client was exploring new channels to market their products and also create a technology platform to reduce the load on sales team. The client’s sales team members relied on paper-based catalogs to provide information to consumers/retailers during their visit.

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Business Requirements

Some of the key requirements:

  • Ensure wider reach to customer base and target through new channels of sales & marketing
  • Enable sales force with real-time update of product information
  • Reduce overhead costs by eliminating printing and shipping expenses
  • Analyze and assess customer preferences and behavior on products showcased

Benefits Overview

  • Enhanced Communication: iPad/iPhone based sales force catalog solution offered a new channel to deliver content directly to their customers and sales team.
  • Improved Sales Force Efficiency: Rich media content helped sales force to convey the right product message to retailers and consumers.
  • Understand Consumer Behavior: Integrated analytic tools on backend CMS helped in analyzing consumer preferences and behavior towards products.
  • Delivery through Innovation: RapidValue’s ‘Xcelerate’ methodology helped in reusing components ensuring faster time to delivery.
  • Cost Effectiveness: No wastage of paper and no recurring license fees.

Challenges and Our Approach

RapidValue evaluated the challenges and recommended Brighton to implement iPhone/iPad based sales catalog solution to allow both consumers and sales team to access product information at anytime from anywhere.

The main challenge was the time-to-deliver the application. The client had an annual sales event that was within eight weeks from the initial requirement gathering stage and the board wanted to showcase this application to the sales team during the event. Since the application was going to be used by consumers, it was important to secure the application by user-type (role), ensuring that only corresponding content for the respective user-type is published. This application was also expected to be client’s first attempt in creating a new marketing channel to reach consumers. Therefore, it was critical to customize the user-interface to match the overall theme and experience of the fashion retail industry. The client required three different types of media content included in the app – pictures, product catalog in PDF format, and videos to be a part of the sales-force solution without slowing down the speed and response time of the app.

Considering the above challenges, RapidValue proposed to build an exclusively branded and fully tailored end-to-end tablet catalog system, leveraging RapidValue’s “Xcelerate” methodology. RapidValue assessed a wide range of industry specific pre-built components to accelerate the pace of development and delivered ad-hoc versions as early as three weeks from the start of development life cycle. As part of the solution, RapidValue built a backend CMS system through which the content was uploaded and published to the devices. This platform helped the client to centrally manage and control all product catalog information.

Development Highlights

A highly experienced team consisting of business analysts, solution architects, iPad developers, and backend CMS developers was formed to analyze the unique requirements and to develop the right solution for the client. The solution lead was positioned at the client location to interact with various departments and to capture client’s requirements which had to be in line with their business model. The strategies centered on following key criteria:

  • User Interface – Build UI with a theme based on client’s business model to ensure consumer stickiness and excitement.
  • Performance – Since the time spent on consumer/retailer is limited it is important that the Sales force do not spend too long on start-up/loading the app.
  • Cost Saving – Minimize cost by leveraging the available components and ensure lower TCO.
  • Scalability & Flexibility – Ensure that the solution is future proof, support scalability and flexibility to add new features in later versions.

Development Cycle

The project, which was completed within fifteen weeks, was executed in two phases. The objective was to release a fully working application for sales team within eight week period and roll out the full version of application for consumers with social media features included in the second phase of the project. This was possible by building the solution using a number of industry-specific components, which significantly accelerated the development process.

Leveraging RapidValue’s “Xcelerate” methodology, the project was sub-divided into multiple phases and iterative builds, ensuring that the client’s project managers and business stakeholders could see the product evolving, instead of waiting till the last build to see the final product. Our experience in other similar project helped in re-using pre-built industry specific components (e.g. Modules for PDF and, slide-show and video integration, catalog download, progress bar, Facebook, email and analytics) ensured that the development was completed in minimum time frame.

Each iterative build was targeted against a milestone, which was mapped against traceability matrix or against ad-hoc code builds. This involved significant expertise in project management and coordination, to ensure that all the pieces were built in parallel and assembled in a coordinated fashion.

The first step in the design cycle was the development of customized UI. Here the solution architect worked in parallel with the client team in understanding their business and type of consumer base they hold so that the right framework and user experience can be created.

First prototype was released within three to four weeks, which was analyzed by the client project manager and graphic designer for sufficient UI modifications.

The second phase focused more on features for consumers accessing the application through app-store. Additional functionalities like promotional offers, push-in consumer messages, CRM analytics were added to supplement the app thereby providing meaningful value to the client.

The complete system was built in a scalable manner, so that new features and functionalities can be added in a seamless manner without disrupting the overall system. One such functionality was the availability to stream the videos while downloading them in parallel; the app also had functionality for user to select the number of videos to download in parallel in case the bandwidth is small to download.

Solution Overview

RapidValue built and deployed an iPad/iPhone based Product Catalog Solution that enabled the sales team and consumers to access all product related information from one place. The solution consisted of a Content management Server that contained product information in rich media format, which can be managed centrally by the IT/Marketing groups of the client.

The solution enabled the client team to publish rich media content like videos, PDF files, and images to the sales team and consumer. The solution had many sub-categories that defined the theme and business of the client and fashion retail industry in general, thus maintaining a correlation for the sales team and consumers. Users were notified when a new content was uploaded in the backend through a push-notification message.

The app provided an option to view catalog information that was already downloaded in case sales representatives were not in any Wi-Fi/3G zone. Social media tools such as Facebook and Emailing were also integrated so that users can share with their friends, colleagues and customers. The solution supports interactive features like rotating heart that symbolizes the logo of the heart with a notification number to indicate the number of items (content) yet to be viewed/ downloaded. The app also created new ways to market new products by showcasing the same whenever the user logs into the app by advertising as ‘product of the week’ or ‘product for a cause’ or ‘holiday season special’.

The development of the backend CMS added a significant advantage to the client team as it not only created a system for sending content to the frontend system but it also created a platform to centrally manage and control all the product catalog data. The CRM analytics provided very vital information like number of times a product has been viewed, behavior and likeness of product with respect to location.

Solution Overview

Results

This solution was beneficial to various teams of the client – their sales, marketing and product design team as well as consumers.

Deliver through Innovation

Unlike other tablet/smartphone applications, RapidValue developed this application using pre-built industry specific reusable components, which were customized to client’s specific needs. One of the components is ‘viewing the catalog magazine’ (provided by the client) in the form of PDF. RapidValue customized the component to allow the products to be viewed in two modes – landscape mode (spread out) and portrait mode (single page view), the advantage to this is, when users zooms the PDF to view specific products the clarity of the product was not lost. The iterative builds provided consistent vision of the solution being developed with ample time for feedback to be incorporated.

Customized UI

User-Interface with focus on Usability has been given priority while designing the solution. The application provided a user-interface that is user friendly and enriching, driving consumer to use the application more frequently leading to higher store visits and subsequent purchases. Videos providing information about the product help sales team to learn and understand the product better thereby creating a new medium of virtual tutoring.

New Channel for Marketing Products

User-Interface with focus on Usability has been given priority while designing the solution. The application provided a user-interface that is user friendly and enriching, driving consumer to use the application more frequently leading to higher store visits and subsequent purchases. Videos providing information about the product help sales team to learn and understand the product better thereby creating a new medium of virtual tutoring.

Scalability

The solution has CMS and iPad component. Both the components strictly follow MVC architecture. The server is designed based on SOA design principle by which any logical piece is designed as a service. The integration module just consolidates the services. Any new additional feature can be added as a new service on top of the existing features. This makes system more flexible as additional features can be added without disturbing the existing functionality. Since the application follows SOA, it can be deployed in a distributed environment to service heavy load.

Security

There are two components to the CMS application – web interface and REST based services. The web interface is for configuring and uploading product content and the REST based services is to feed the iPad application. These two components are totally independent and can be deployed separately with common database access. iPad and REST services communicates through SSL tunnel and the data that passes back and forth are encrypted.

Productivity and Cost Effectiveness

Using pre-built industry specific components, RapidValue reduced the development cycle time and thereby subsequent costs significantly in comparison to other catalog solutions. RapidValue helped the client build a specialized tablet catalog platform – improved sales team productivity with centralized location to find product information and reducing start-up time compared to laptops.

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