June 21, 2016 - No Comments!

How 4 years changed mobile development, our mobile team and our client’s app

 

The Client
Natural and organic children’s boutique Sprout San Francisco, with five locations in California, Illinois and New York and an online store carrying non-toxic and eco-friendly baby gear from rattles to cribs.

The Project
In 2012, Sprout became the first client for Table XI’s mobile practice when founder and CEO Suzanne Price reached out to see what kind of app might benefit her business. Since a full 25 percent of Sprout’s sales come from its registry business, we worked together to design a registry app that would help new parents pick out all the kit that comes along with having a kid. After four years and a backend change to the webstore, the app was ready for a total overhaul.

Sprout mobile app

Goals
The new version of the app was going to have the same basic functionality, but a much needed Magento upgrade (from an old rusty SOAP API to REST!) gave us a chance to do things differently and add new features. We were itching to redesign the app entirely — skeuomorphism is so 2012 — and remove a bunch of workarounds the old API required. We had also made significant mobile development improvements, updating our process and tooling. With all the opportunities for upgrades, it seemed like a good idea to start fresh.

With the first app, we helped expecting parents build their registry. They could walk around the store and scan toys, cribs, strollers, whatever they wanted, and the app would show them useful information and let them add the product to their registry. The experience was great for parents, but the app’s output was … an email. Because their version of Magento couldn’t connect to the app, the Sprout team would have to manually add each item selected in the app to the parents’ online registries. That’s why the planned Magento upgrade was such an opportunity — we could finally connect the app to the webstore and the online registries.

Quite a bit had changed in the mobile development world in the four years since we’d built the Sprout app. We’ve found — and, in some cases, built — tools that make writing code more efficient, including making the switch from Objective C to Swift, Apple’s new programming language. We’ve also tested dozens of tools to help our clients, and we were able to add a few really cool tools to help Sprout’s business:

Fabric: An awesome suite of tools. We currently use it for beta deployment, user metrics and crash reporting. Fabric addresses crashes in both beta builds and live versions of the app, and tracks user metrics like devices being used, daily users, retention, etc. It gives us a much better look at the app’s performance and how it’s being used in real life.
App Annie: This tool provides us with every piece of App Store analytics we need. From downloads, revenue and views to keyword rankings and how similar apps match up to ours. It’s incredibly useful to both our clients and ourselves.
Fastlane: It’s important to get regular beta builds out to customers, as well as making the App Store push as painless as possible, especially when everyone is excited to see it live. Fastlane handles it all for us, and in significantly less time.

 

“Table XI has been so knowledgable about what we needed—often without us knowing we needed it.”

Heather, Director at Sprout

 

Challenges
Our big focus on this project was scope. We were operating within a limited budget, so we had to make tough calls about what to tackle in this phase. We also wanted to keep things on a tight timetable, so we could get a new app in customers’ hands and start learning from how they used it. We completed the entire project in a couple months, including a pause while another development shop worked on upgrading the e-commerce platform. That meant putting a few non-essential features, like in-app account creation, off until the next round of development.

 

“I never feel like Table XI is trying to get as many hours or as much money out of us as possible. Sometimes I'll suggest something and Mark or Ed will say ‘You know, that will really take a lot of time. Let's try this other thing first and see how you like that.’ They're always willing to try to find ways for us to do things more efficiently.”

Suzanne, CEO at Sprout

 

Sprout San Francisco mobile app

Strategy
At Table XI, we put a lot of emphasis on internalizing the client. For all our clients, we work to get a sense of what their business is about. With Sprout and Suzanne, we had people go to her store and shop and talk to her end users. When our project lead, Mark Rickmeier had his second kid, he bought his crib from Sprout to think about what he would want to do if he were a new parent. That approach gives us extra insight into the product, so we can come up with potential features while also offering strong technical improvements.

In Sprout’s case, it also helps that we have a long history of building e-commerce businesses. We could use a lot of what we’ve seen and learned on other projects to make more informed recommendations.

 

“Table XI really took a lot of time helping us understand the business case for what we’re doing, to help us figure out what to build. I've really appreciated them taking a step back and saying, ‘What's the purpose of this? What are you trying to get out of it? What do you want the customers to get out of it? Let's talk about how to build it based on that.’”

Suzanne, CEO at Sprout

 

Execution
The most gratifying part of this build was seeing how much the mobile practice at Table XI has matured — and how much mobile development itself has matured — in the last four years. We were able to make so many technical improvements to the app by incorporating the latest tools and best practices.

Visually, we improved the design tremendously by taking cues from the newly redesigned website. The app borrows the same colors and the same look and feel. Sprout has always had a really playful design, so we try to stay close to that. We also made sure to mirror the educational part of the site, including the information that makes Sprout’s products so unique. A lot of thought goes into the products Sprout sells, and we want to make sure users understand why they’re healthier than the alternatives and what makes them Sprout-approved.

 

“Table XI was very intuitive with our branding, and they were very proactive about that. They saw the whole picture of who we are as a company and implemented that into the look of the app without us needing to give direction on design. They just looked at our site, saw how to make it right for a small screen, and did it. We opened up the app the first time and said ‘Wow, this looks great!’”

Heather, Director at Sprout

 

Sprout mobile app Categories

What we learned
We actually started the redesign out by scrapping an assumption that we had initially. During the first build, we thought new parents would want help navigating the overwhelming amount of stuff that babies need, so we built a checklist in the app that lit up green when parents had added all the necessary products from a certain category. But we found that most new parents register at multiple locations, so they weren’t looking to register for everything at once. They may get their crib at Sprout, but pick up clothes somewhere else.

Because the app is handed to customers when they come in the store — the store will even lend out iPods for shoppers who don’t have the right device — Suzanne and her salespeople are able to collect a tremendous amount of data on how the users are really interacting with the app. We were able to use that feedback to focus the second iteration of the app on user needs.

That’s also part of why we kept the app as streamlined as possible this time around, so we could get it into shoppers hands and start getting feedback. The budget didn’t leave much room for usability testing, but we’ll have an excellent opportunity to collect user impressions in the store.

 

“That was a good learning experience — putting in something just because it's kind of cool, might end up making the app not function as well as it could for the part that really matters.” 

Suzanne, CEO at Sprout

 

Results
This redesign was all about connecting to that e-commerce API. Now, when someone leaves the store, their registry is already online and accessible. There’s no waiting for an emailed list to be entered into a computer, and none of the manpower that old solution required. What's on the web and what's on the phone are always in sync. That was a big deal.

This time we've also been able to accommodate different kinds of products Sprout carries. We built in the ability to add variables to a product, so more complex products like a crib with different finishes can be added from the app. Now shoppers can use the app in the store or at home on their couch, and in either place they’ll have access to Sprout’s full inventory. If this works, Sprout’s online sales should dwarf the sales in physical stores.

 

“Stores just can't have every giant piece of furniture. So it's really wonderful for the app to sync with the website and be able to have all of those options there for shoppers.”

Heather, Director at Sprout

 

“I hope that it will make a seamless and easy registry experience for our customers that are time-strapped and just want that process to go as smoothly as possible.”

Suzanne, CEO at Sprout

 

What’s next
The best part of being a partner to our clients is knowing we’ll get to work on adding to this app. With all the new mobile tools and best practices we incorporated into the app, we can expand upon it much easier, and really put some new features into customers’ hands. That's the part we’re excited about. With this project, there's a ton of creativity, but also solid and swift execution. We’re already working on some ideas for the summer, and knowing we’ll have a quick loop where we can get a new feature out and see how users react is amazing.

Published by: Ed LaFoy in Mobile

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