True Value tackles challenging mobile app problem

SAN FRANCISCO -- True Value Company built a mobile application that enables in-store personnel to immediately access inventory to answer customer questions and order products, Michael Weeder, retail systems architect at the company, told an audience here at the CITE Conference.

What made this mobile app project particularly challenging is that True Value is a cooperative made up of 3,200 core hardware stores. The stores are not company owned or a franchise; they are run independently. So Weeder had to persuade the owners that the app would be useful for them to use. He couldn't force them to use the app and he had no control over mobile devices used at the stores.

To figure out what store owners wanted in a mobile app, Weeder did something radical. He asked them. At a semi-annual conference of store owners, called a "reunion," he polled owners, or what he calls members of the cooperative, about whether they wanted a mobile app and what capabilities they would want if they had one.

According to a poll of 105 store owners at the conference, 41 said they let all employees use their own mobile devices at work, 37 allowed certain employees to use their own devices at work, 25 only allowed employees to use store-supplied devices and two did not allow employees to have mobile devices at work at all.

Through a series of questions, Weeder uncovered that the store owners wanted a mobile app that could be used by employees in the aisle to look up inventory to answer customer questions and serve their product needs.

In developing the app, Weeder turned to PhoneGap to build a hybrid app and Amazon to host the app in the cloud. In addition, he used smartweb technology provided by CSS Corp. to bring it all together. And the app was built to support both iOS and Android devices.

Once the app was launched at another reunion conference with a big marketing push, there were 700 downloads in the first few days, but then the number of downloads slowed. So Weeder decided to offer an iPad to the store that used the mobile app to place the most orders. As a result, downloads soared to 1,500. As of today, the mobile app has been downloaded around 2,500 times.

In version 2.0 of the app, Weeder added Google Analytics to provide store owners and True Value headquarters a way to track app visits. "That is my true measure of success as defined by the customers themselves," Weeder concluded.

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