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Appiphilia: Amazon remembers and Target takes aim at your gifting needs

December 6, 2008 | 12:00 pm

It seems that retailers are not only trying to get in our wallets, they're trying to find their way there through our phones. Online seller Amazon.com and traditional store Target recently released apps for the iPhone. So let's take a look at clicks (Amazon.com) versus bricks (Target).

Amazon app for iPhone Amazon.com (Free)

What it is: A scaled-down version of its robust mobile site. If you have an account, you can access your online shopping cart and wish lists. You can search for items, read reviews and buy stuff too.

What sizzles: The synchronization with the website appears to be almost instantaneous. The experimental feature Amazon Remembers, which lets you upload photos of objects to see if the e-tailer sells them, may just prove Shazam-cool for shopping. Using my iPhone, I snapped a couple of pictures of items at my desk (an external hard drive, a KVM switch and a purple Prada handbag), thinking they might not be clear enough to make out brand names. Within seconds, the items, while not yet identified, showed up in my online account. This was true whether I used Wi-Fi or cellular. And a short while later, a red dot popped up  ...

... next to the Remembers icon. Lo and behold, it had the right brand and a purchase option for the two tech items. The handbag was close, but not quite the same. (Right brand, wrong model.) In a later test, I did manage to stump the product-searching gremlins with a snapshot of a holiday-themed mug from Starbucks.

Apparently Amazon has gone retro and incorporates the use of human intelligence -- Amazon Mechanical Turk. In this era of technological dependence, it's downright radical to integrate actual human beings into the research and matching process. (And since it got the hardware right and the, uh, "soft-wear"  wrong, I'm thinking that maybe Amazon has more men searching than women.)

This feature could make comparison shopping between bricks and clicks while in the store that much easier.

What fizzles: You can't buy music downloads from Amazon for your iPhone. On the Web, Amazon sells digital tracks that are sometimes cheaper than on iTunes -- and they are MP3s, not copy-protected AAC files. The iPhone has the ability to download music over Wi-Fi via iTunes, but this application is, after all, made to run on an Apple product. So, I'm guessing there's no hope of ever being able to buy music downloads from Amazon on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Bummer.

Bottom line: It's a free app, but honestly Amazon's mobile site does most everything better. That said, Amazon Remembers just may be worth the effort it takes to download it and make space on your device -- and worth watching how the turks manage should the app take off.

Target Target (Free)

What it is: Target's Christmas Wrapped Gift Globe is a gift-idea generator and shopping tool. Simply shake your iPhone (it's got a built-in accelerometer, after all) to get suggestions for the gender and age range selected. The suggestions appear on a snow globe. The app may suggest that a 26- to 35-year-old male would want to unwrap a power drill, MP3 player or exercise equipment. Or that a female older than 60 may gush over the gift of kitchen equipment or velour.

What sizzles: It's kind of a clever way to put your product in the hands of willing potential customers. Generally, people who actively download the app are more inclined to want to buy something from Target.

When your shaking generates a gift suggestion that interests you, you can add the item to your "favorites" and assign it to a name in your address book or a new contact. If you decide you want to go old-school and, say, drive to the Target store to buy the item, you just type in a preferred ZIP Code and get a list of which nearby stores have it available. (And if you want instant gratification, the app allows you to buy it online.) Taking advantage of the iPhone 3G's internal GPS -- it'll locate the nearest Target and provide store details.

What fizzles: The gift options offered are fairly generic and somewhat stereotypical. But that's to be expected with a one-size-fits-most app.

I wasn't all that impressed with its online buying option. It takes you to the real site, not an iPhone-optimized site. So there is a bit of pinching, zooming and flicking involved. If you're trying to get me to buy from you, sell it to me by making the process as easy and user-friendly as possible.

Bottom line: Target has found another way of connect with its target audience. And it's actually kind of clever. It could be particularly useful for last-minute shoppers.

-- Michelle Maltais

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