Seventeen‘s iPhone App Is Best-Friendly

By Steve Smith

Service magazines are always trying to get closer to users and assert their brands in local markets. Seventeen, Hearst’s teen print brand, is working both strategies at once with its new Fashion Finder iPhone app. True to its name, the task-oriented downloadable mobile program lets teen girls shop for a range of items and styles on their phones and even locate and reserve apparel at their local stores.

“Teen girls are one of the fastest-growing populations on the iPhone and the iPod Touch,” says Ann Shoket, Seventeen editor-in-chief. In fact, critics of the iPhone’s limited audience penetration overlook the fact that the touch-screen iPod model is also capable of running the same downloadable apps as the iPhone. The iPod Touch is wildly popular with young users and opens up a massive market for publishers. This year Apple has estimated its multi-touch device penetration (iPhone and iPod Touch) to be at more than 37 million worldwide.

The app, made in partnership with retail promotions marketer NearbyNow, loads the current cover of Seventeen magazine at the start and then drops the user into a catalog of looks. You can shop by item type (jeans, tops, shoes, bags), by “Vibe” (Rocker, Boho, Girly, Classic) or by “Cover Star Picks” (in this case by Selena Gomez). Scores of goods are currently in the database, which Seventeen says it will update monthly.

When a user finds an item she wants, she can email it to herself or others, find a retailer online or use the iPhone’s location awareness to find nearby retailers that carry it. Seventeen’s developer NearbyNow has partnered with retailers for a number of years to give consumers visibility into the actual store inventories at local shopping malls. The Fashion Finder app leverages this database to query nearby stores about the actual availability of an item in specific sizes and colors. When we searched a darling pink top and asked about availability, the closest Bloomingdale’s answered the request within minutes via SMS.

Shoket says that the Fashion Finder is editorially driven and not tied to any back-end revenue share with retailers. “There will be advertising support to come. This is at the core of the Seventeen mission, to help girls find fashion and make the magazines as user friendly and best-friendly as we possibly can.”

Seventeen is supporting the launch with multiple ads in the September issue of the magazine and with an online shopping spree contest designed to drive users to the app. “We’re using Twitter, Facebook and MySpace pages to get the word out to readers, too,” says Shoket.

The Seventeen Fashion Finder app generally is a good attempt to close the loop between magazine editorial and retail using the device of choice among its teen readers. Each item has a pop-up editorial comment (albeit pretty slight, we think) and the pathway to reserving the product itself at a nearby store is quite seamless.

Nevertheless, there are challenges for applications like this. With new updates planned once a month when the issue and cover change, the app is mapping a monthly publishing schedule onto a 24/7 device. Mobile applications, even on the iPhone, tend to become invisible to users when they don’t slip into regular use. A number of media and product brands have the right idea in making mobile apps that are truly functional, not just content-driven. And yet there still needs to be a way to keep these tools current and top of mind for users. In this respect perhaps some piece of content (a tip a day, a weekly shopping find?) could be a way to remind users they have a good tool like this to use between the monthly refreshes.

“I think there is a lot of learning in this for us as well,” Shoket says. “We will see how readers want to shop on their phones and look at fashion. This is a tremendously flexible app, so if we see the girls are asking for more content, there will be the flexibility to make that happen.”


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