Essential reading for retailers and suppliers in the home improvement market
A part of me hates smart phones. For one thing they turn nice normal people who you used to enjoy socialising with into annoying recluses who sit in the pub totally ignoring you while they poke people on Facebook and play Angry Birds. But there is another reason I dislike smart phones - the advent of the app. Apps or applications are how most smart phone or tablet users access information via their device.

I love the internet because it is diverse and democratic; anyone can set up a simple website for free and advertise cheaply. The smallest business can get their name out there and start building their business. A good friend of mine teaches piano in Brighton and she recently had a call from the BBC about training an actress to play because her simple but effective website meant she was as visible on Google as a larger company with many teachers.

I see small business start-ups crop up on Twitter all the time, entrepreneurial housewives with a good idea who can achieve an audience of thousands for free.

Of course larger companies have more money to spend on search engine optimisation and advertising. But on the whole I find the internet a great leveller where smaller companies who provide good service and products can thrive. And with social media such a large part of the web and the opportunity to review ebay sellers, products on Amazon and even on retailer's websites like Lakeland's, products that do not impress have nowhere to hide.

Not so the app. Firstly building an app is expensive and time consuming. Then you have to persuade people to download it onto their phones so it has to be useful and interesting and you have to put a lot of effort and money into marketing it. I suspect only the larger suppliers and retailers will see creating an app as a viable option.

From the point of view of a user, apps close down the web experience. Remember when we used to use the term 'surf the internet'? We used to browse around from website to website and discover new and interesting information which we wouldn't have known we were looking for.

Websites have become cleverer about trying to keep users on their site as long as possible, so this experience has already changed. However an app takes it a step further, giving the user exactly the information they were looking for, and nothing else. The app developer has complete control over what the user finds when they open the application, not like a Google search which brings up everything both positive and negative.

It all just feels like a step backwards from the lovely democratic internet that showed people new things and opened up the marketplace.

All this is why, when I spotted a particular feature of the new Google+ I was suddenly filled with a sense of optimism. The feature I'm talking about is Spark. Spark will bring content to the user that they might be interested in, based on their interests. So if I register my interest in DIY, Spark will show me not some exact page I have searched for, but a myriad of information from around the internet, including new things I wouldn't have thought about searching for. There are other tools on the web that do this kind of thing of course. But to have a big launch including a new tool like this is a sign that it's not just me who still wants to be able to take the scenic route to find things on the net.

So what's the advice for retailers and suppliers? Well it is worth having an app- once someone downloads it, it's sitting right in front of them on their phone all day and is bound to be a first point of call. But there are other clever options for reaching mobile users; look out for opportunities for your product or company to feature on someone else's app. Advertising on applications is an underused opportunity at the moment, which should make it an effective one for early adopters.

And keep posting interesting and useful content online and it will be picked up by tools like Spark on Google+. Remember, content doesn't have to be on your own website, spread your message around the internet for maximum reach.
View User Profile for Ellie Dawes DIYWeek.net's former web guru Ellie Dawes blogs on the world of online retail.

Want to know what a QR code is? Whether retailers are better marketing on Twitter or Facebook? Please get in touch and let me know what YOU would like to know more about so I can write blog posts that are useful to you.
Posted by Ellie Dawes Ellie Dawes | 18 July 2011 | 10:55 | More from: DIY in cyberspace

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