Two new apps--one for the iPad, the other for the iPhone--intend to remake the way we shop.
The first app, Catalog Spree , from Padopolis, tries to remake that earliest stage of the purchase funnel: the catalog. Virtual catalogs are nothing new, of course; they've been downloadable in PDF form for years, and some are already available as apps. But Catalog Spree's main innovation is to form a sort of clearing house for all these apps; it bills itself as the "only catalog app offering an entire 'mall' of retailers." Conceived as a sort of virtual mall, Catalog Spree's offer becomes more intriguing.
Catalog Spree allows you to make purchases through the app, of course, and to share and save items on Facebook. There's also an environmentalist case for an app like this: according  to the Wall Street Journal, over 20 billion catalogs were mailed out in the United States. It's a publishing market as big as books and magazines, according to Rick Binger, Catalog Spree's cofounder.
The second app, this one released today, is more compelling. Instead of catching shoppers at the opening of the purchase funnel, it catches them at the end--in the grocery store. A company called Modiv Media  has made an iPhone app, which the supermarket chain has implemented in a form called Scan It!
Scan It! effectively combines shopping and checkout into one act. Instead of the shopper filling a shopping cart and unloading it at the register, the shopper scans each item straight off the shelves while bagging them. The app offers personalized deals as you go. The whole experience is tightly integrated with the shopper's existing Stop & Shop loyalty card, according  to Technology Review, which reported on the app today. When you're finished collecting and bagging your items, you simply make your way to a register, scan your loyalty card, which has tallied all your items, and pay all at once.
The offers and ease make it appealing to shoppers. For retailers, it potentially cuts back on labor costs, since fewer cashiers are needed. What's more, Modiv says that in a previous incarnation of Scan It!, customers spent an extra $7 per visit and came to the store 10% more often, so jazzed were they, apparently, by the way "technology in the app puts you in control of the shopping experience," as John Caron, Modiv's senior vice president of marketing, put it to Technology Review.
While Modiv's app seems to us to be the more innovative of the two, it's also the one that seems to have more barriers to adoption, both on the part of shopper and retailer. There is an ergonomic logic to scanning an entire cartful of itesm all at once, at the end; will fumbling with an iPhone over each can of tomatoes really prove to be a time saver for shoppers? And what of accountability? Technology Review says that Stop & Shop employees will occasionally double check the contents of bags to make sure that users aren't making off with extra goods.
But to trust each and every Stop & Shop cardholder not to "accidentally" knock a second box of mac and cheese into the bag? That may be taking the definition of "loyalty cards" a bit too far.
[Image: Flickr user Ed Yourdon ]