The Apple Watch Is An In-Store Tool For J.C. Penney

The department store chain sees its new app for the watch primarily as a consumer “shopping companion” — and fellow retailers can learn from its approach.

J.C. Penney’s Apple Watch app is intended to be first and foremost an in-store aid, guiding customers through the search and purchase process — and giving fellow retailers a potential glimpse at just what a “shopping companion” might look like on the watch.

J.C. Penney Apple Watch app

Many of the app’s functions are designed exclusively for in-store use. One allows customers to search for an out-of-stock item in a different color or size at the imrsimrsfour J.C. Penney stores closest to their location, and then provides turn-by-turn directions to the store that has the item in stock. Additionally, customers can save any item they like online and then call up that list of items on the app in order to find them easily in the store.

“When someone’s in the store shopping, the easier you can make it for them to get information about the shopping experience, the better it’s going to be,” Mike Rogers, J.C. Penney’s EVP of omnichannel, told The Washington Post.

21st Century Comparison Shopping

Retailers have discovered that customers don’t exclusively use their smart devices to peruse products from the couch or the cab — they use them while shopping to do price comparisons, read reviews, and even find other nearby stores with a better selection. By incorporating this functionality into an app for the Apple Watch — a device arguably even more personal than the smartphone — retailers stand a chance to tap into that existing customer behavior and boost sales in turn.

“Smartphones, until now, were the most personal devices we owned,” Frederic Bonn, executive creative director, J. Walter Thompson New York, told GeoMarketing in March. “The Apple Watch is getting even more personal, to the point of intimate, being a device one might literally keep on the wrist at all times, allowing it to capture an incredible amount of personal data. So more than ever, brands need to create experiences — from entertainment to utility — that are truly valuable to people in order to earn the right to get a presence on the device.”

In the case of the J.C. Penney app, the personal factor comes in the form of letting shoppers search on-demand for their preferred colors and sizes, locating items in the store or, as mentioned, in a store nearby. Studying the consumer response to this type of functionality over the next year should be useful to a wide variety of retailers. Will shoppers respond, choosing J.C. Penney or stores with similar capabilities over their competitors?

Expanding App Interactions

While this provides an interesting look into what an Apple Watch “shopping companion” might look like, much of the marketing potential of the watch is yet untapped. Marketers have good reason to be cautious — consumers are likely to reject anything seen as an intrusion, particularly on such a small and personal device — but opportunities exist, especially as shoppers become accustomed to the type of functionality that J.C. Penney is providing.

“The Apple Watch has the potential to enable [many more] in-store marketing opportunities by using beacons to create a form of micro-communication between retailers and shoppers using a device that is always out and available,” Mike McCurry, of mobile marketing platform Point Inside, told GeoMarketing in April. “This enables improved real-time customer engagement and targeted messaging for retailers who seize the opportunity.”

J.C. Penney’s app already enables real-time search and discovery for specific items, like in the shopping for an out-of-stock item example. Whether or not the chain opts to incorporate beacon technology or other tools for real-time messaging will likely depend on consumer adoption of devices like the Apple Watch over the next several months.As analysts expect Apple Watch to continue to see its popularity soar over the next year, retailers like J.C Penney will likely ramp up their connected marketing strategies to keep up with their shoppers.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.