Apple Watch Presents Retailers With More Opportunities For Real-Time Engagement

Mobile has become a critical channel for retailers to connect with consumers more directly, whether they are at home or on the go. But the new Apple Watch is expected to help retailers to make that connection even more real time and powerful. Retailers such as QVC are already developing apps for the new hardware.

Earlier this week, Apple officially unveiled the Apple Watch, with CEO Tim Cook announcing that the new wearable will be available in nine countries on April 24, 2015. 

“Apple Watch begins a new chapter in the way we relate to technology,” Cook said in a press statement. “We can’t wait for people to start wearing Apple Watch to easily access information that matters, to interact with the world, and to live a better day by being more aware of their daily activity than ever before.”


Apple Watch is available in three collections: Apple Watch Sport ($349-$399), Apple Watch ($549-$1,099) and Apple Watch Edition, which is crafted from custom rose or yellow 18-karat gold alloys (starting at $10,000).

Scaling Down Mobile Messages And Apps

Although the different price points and design concepts are a strong selling point for consumers, brands and retailers are wondering how the widespread availability and eventual adoption of Apple Watch will impact their app and messaging strategies. 

After all, during the official press conference, Apple’s SVP of Design Jony Ive promised that the Apple Watch would merge hardware and software “like never before. In Apple Watch, we’ve created three beautifully curated collections with a software architecture that together enable unparalleled personalization in a wearable device.”

The core difference between mobile devices and the Apple Watch is the screen size, which marketers see as valuable real estate. Scaling down apps and messages from an iPhone screen to a watch face may seem nearly impossible. However, industry experts argue that this presents retailers with an opportunity to leverage shorter, snappier messaging tactics. 

“Regular mobile push notifications are exciting because they require immediate action,” said Heidi Trethaway, Director of Marketing Communications at Urban Airship, in a recent Retail TouchPoints webinar. “Take that immediacy and multiply it by 1,000 and that’s the height of urgency smartwatches can create.”

While engaging with a regular smartphone push notification, “consumers take about 30 seconds to glance at the message and open the app,” Trethaway noted. “But smartwatch notifications will be scaled down to glanceable moments of approximately three seconds. That means brands are going to get awesome at creating those micro-scale mobile moments.”

Brands, retailers and agencies already are working to keep pace with the arrival of Apple Watch by developing unique apps and integrations, according to Trethaway. “Many of our top brands and agency partners are currently developing for the watch, and they plan to integrate their smartwatch notifications with their overall app strategy.”

Apps currently compatible with Apple Watch include Facebook, Instagram, Shazam and Uber. Retale, a location-based app that connects shoppers with nearby deals and discounts, also has developed an app for the Apple Watch, making it the first mobile shopping platform available on the device. The app is set to launch in April when Apple Watches are available in-store.

The Retale Apple Watch app will build on the location-based features in the initial iOS offering, including the “Store Finder” tool. Retailer ads also will be visible on the watch, serving as an extension of the Retale iPhone and iPad apps.

“We’re providing the best features from Retale on iOS in a frictionless setting, helping retailers more easily connect with customers and customers access more deals,” said Pat Dermody, President of Retale. “By using the Apple Watch almost as a shortcut to the fuller experience on the iPhone or iPad, making it more convenient for our users to engage with our retailers’ content.”

Omnichannel retailer QVC also is planning to roll out an Apple Watch app as an extension of its current mobile offerings. 

“We’re very excited about opportunities to deepen our relationship with our customers through a wearable device.” Alex Miller, SVP of Digital Commerce at QVC, told Retail TouchPoints. “The QVC experience on Apple Watch will extend the functionality of our iPhone app, yet will be contextual to the small screen format of a wearable. We believe our customers will enjoy this new way of checking-in with the brands and products they have come to love with a simple glance to their wrist.”

Moving forward, there’s opportunity for Apple Watch and other smartwatches to act as a natural extension of smartphones to create more urgency for consumers as they’re browsing and buying, especially if the technology is combined with beacons. 

“The combination of Apple Watch and iBeacon is going to be powerful,” said Sandy Hussain, Founder and CEO of Fashion Digital. “Will we be alerted when walking past our favorite store that that dress we were eying online is just a few feet away and on sale. Very soon the gap between online and offline channels will completely disappear, and it might be because of that little watch on our wrist.”

Apple Pay Integration A Key Selling Point

Although the Apple Watch provides new engagement opportunities for brands and retailers, the device’s integration with Apple Pay also is a core selling point.

“Apple Watch will be a game-changer for in-store NFC payments,” explained Ralf Gladis, CEO of Computop, a payment services provider. “The Apple community will love Apple Watch because it’s cool, apps are handy and payments will be fast and simple.”

Whole Foods is one retailer that is currently using Apple Pay and is expected embrace smartwatches as a new engagement and revenue opportunity.

“We’re committed to providing innovative new choices and conveniences for our customers, and the ability to buy groceries with just a simple touch of a finger elevates convenience to a whole new level,” said Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb in a press release. Since rolling out the technology on Oct. 20, 2014, Whole Foods has seen Apple Pay account for 2% of all transactions.

In an interview with TheStreet, Robb alluded to Whole Foods’ eagerness to experiment with Apple Watch.

“Our customers compared to most supermarkets are more digitally savvy, and inclined to use these sorts of products and processes,” Robb said. “The real question is how Apple moves to the Watch, and as they start to build out their mobile payment ecosystem, what other sorts of items come to the customer beyond the wallet function — I think it’s another way for the customer to shop.” 

Speed is a core benefit of Apple Pay. Consumers can use their iPhones, and soon Apple Watches, to tap their devices on a POS terminal. Not only is this easier for consumers, it also helps accelerate checkout times for retailers during peak times.

“Those are two powerful advantages that will not only lead to Apple Pay’s success but also help Visa, MasterCard and American Express with the deployment of EMV and Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled POS terminals,” Gladis said. “To date, NFC has delivered slow adoption. That will likely change now as Apple Watch will be an accelerator for NFC and a door opener for Visa, MasterCard and American Express which have been challenged in the area of mobile payments by many small but innovative competitors.”

Although it is still early days for Apple Watch, the technology presents a variety of exciting opportunities for retailers across verticals. Retail TouchPoints will continue to report on new developments and trends as they emerge.

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