How to Use Apps to Lighten Your Retail Load

How to Use Apps to Lighten Your Retail Load

Check out these five essential mobile downloads. Plus: Is it worth developing your own app? We weigh the pros and cons.

Mobile apps get us places, and fast. They’re the front doors to some of the world’s most useful digital tools—and most are accessed with a single tap.

Apps also have the ability to aid jewelry retailers and manufacturers in countless ways, from providing the ability to safely ship a $40,000 diamond ring to rehabilitating a lackluster photo for an Instagram feed.

Of course, not all apps are created equal—the growing glut of downloadable “tools” for phones includes winners and losers. Too many apps aren’t properly manned on the back end or malfunction during use (usually due to neglect—there are a lot of amateur app developers out there). But apps that deliver on pragmatic promises can offer indispensable shortcuts for small-business owners.

Here are five JCK-vetted mobile apps designed to ease your daily to-do lists. And should your jewelry business, in this golden age of apps, have its own? Maybe, maybe not. Read on to find out why!

Parcel Pro

Insured shipping service and app Parcel Pro was created by tech entrepreneur Joseph Lam specifically for the jewelry and watch industries more than 20 years ago as a way to quickly and securely ship high-value products, including gemstones, jewelry, and timepieces. In 2015, Parcel Pro was acquired by UPS Capital, a subsidiary of UPS. And the service, which is accessible via the Parcel Pro app, has since become the go-to shipping company for jewelry insurance provider Jewelers Mutual Insurance Group, among others. (Free; parcelpro.com)

StarWallet

Created specifically for jewelry and watch business-to-business transactions, StarWallet is a digital wallet—much like PayPal and Venmo—but without a transfer limit. This makes it possible for jewelers, manufacturers, consumers, and auction houses to instantly transfer large sums of money; we’re talking millions as opposed to most major digital wallets, which allow you to transfer only up to $10,000 per day. Transactions are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. up to $250,000, and the fee to transmit a payment starts at a low 1.7%. The app’s development team (which includes Parcel Pro founder Lam) hopes to make StarWallet the payment system of choice “for major auction houses and trade shows in the near future,” says Flavio Amaral, the company’s vice president of sales. (Free to download, transaction fees vary; star8financial.com)

Shiprack

Shiprack is a free app and service that helps you track the status of online purchases through your smartphone in a single, easy-to-access place. You simply forward every ship-confirmation email to packages@ship-rack.com, and Shiprack’s servers pluck important data from it, including the tracking number, a description of what’s being shipped, and a picture (if it’s provided). The servers routinely connect to the shipping carriers’ systems—and as soon as they see movement on your package, you get an alert on your smartphone. Tracking numbers are stored and synchronized across all your devices, so pulling up info when you need it is a snap. (Free; ship-rack.com)

Snapseed

Some of jewelry’s top Instagram influencers, including Becky Stone (@diamondsinthelibrary) and Hannah Becker (@diamondoodles), rely on Google’s advance photo editing app, Snapseed, to jazz up photos for their well-read Instagram feeds. Yes, phone cameras and social networks, including Instagram, offer blanket filters to edit and improve images. But Snapseed provides an astoundingly high degree of control over its effects and filters. Many of the app’s 29 tools and filters require a bit of tech savvy, but it’s nothing you can’t pick up from 20 minutes on a YouTube tutorial. (Free; App Store and Google Play)

Clientbook

Effective automated clienteling— the act of establishing long-term relationships with customers based on past behaviors and purchases—is the goal of Clientbook, which was designed specifically for sales teams retailing high-value products. The app automates work flows, notes, and reminders—alerting sales associates when customer follow-ups are needed or when a client has a big life event (birthday, anniversary) coming up. The tool also reminds users to reach out when a customer is most likely to buy, based on accrued data, and stores client history in one place. Best of all: When an employee leaves a company, that valuable client data can be easily transferred to a new or existing associate. (Prices vary depending on service; clientbookretail.com)

 

Does Your Retail Business Need Its Own App?

It’s an important question. After all, the most precious retail real estate in the United States right now isn’t on Madison Avenue or Melrose Place. It’s on the palm-size screens of the millions of mobile phones owned by American consumers. 

In 2018, more than 77 percent of Americans owned mobile phones, on which they spent an ­average of more than four hours a day, according to a Pew Research Center study. And our small-screen fixation is only intensifying: This year, mobile phones will surpass TV as the medium we watch the most.

And yes, we talk and text on our phones. But we also shop. A lot. The study revealed that 67 percent of consumers go “digital window shopping” on their smartphones, with 77 percent of those making impulse purchases when they do.

Modern e-commerce websites are mobile-­responsive—meaning they shape-shift from their desktop format to function seamlessly on a variety of mobile devices.

But nearly every major retailer—from Target to Tiffany & Co.—has a proprietary mobile app. Why? A branded app that sits on a phone screen offers one-tap access to a retailer’s inventory, whereas entering a website requires a few more steps (typically starting with a Google search).

But is there room on the rectangle for apps from small brands and retailers?

“Assuming you already have a mobile-­responsive website from a platform, you have to ask yourself the question—is there some intrinsic ­value in ­having an app for your brand?” posits Rick Dunetz, a digital product expert based in Annandale, Va. “Ask yourself what value you’re giving the consumer with an app, and what value you are getting from an app.”

It’s true that apps can offer key advantages to businesses, including the ability to develop consumer loyalty programs, capture consumer data, and deliver alerts and notifications directly to phone screens. But unlike e-commerce websites—which can be built quickly and on the cheap these days on platforms such as Squarespace, Shopify—and Square, creating a well-functioning app requires the ­expertise of an app developer, along with capital. Dunetz puts the price of development of a very basic proprietary app at $5,000–$10,000.

Then again, those costs may be negligible if your company has a solid strategy for leveraging an app that can turn online browsers into in-app buyers. The landscape could hardly be more competitive, but it’s also rife with potential.

(Illustration by Nathan Hackett)