CVS Launches Its Very Attactive—But Potentially Pointless—iPad App


The CVS pharmacy chain this week launched a fairly aggressive iPad app, which depicts a 3-D version of the drugstore. The images are visually beautiful and impressive, but like so many early-stage apps, the designers seemed to have put no effort into functionality enhancements. The app seems to offer no capabilities that go beyond what CVS shoppers have long been able to do via the chain's Web site or iPhone app. For example, using the iPad app to display realtime inventory might save a shopper an unnecessary trip. Better yet, it could use that inventory data to populate the image of the shelf with the products that are there — in theory — at that moment. That way, if a specific kind of bandage is out of stock, the shopper can see the labels and boxes of similar bandages that are available, just as they could by going to the store.

The CVS app is striking, from a visual standpoint. The effort, though, is entirely decorative instead of functional. The marketers out there would no doubt argue what Apple understood about the early Macs: that a mobile app can't help a retailer if it isn't used. The powerful decorations, the iPad eye candy, they'd argue, make it much more likely to be used. That is certainly true, but why not take some of that amazing programming talent that made the images look so impressive and use it to improve functionality equally impressively? (Personal note: I'm a regular CVS shopper, and while I am impressed with the artistry of this app's design, it doesn't give me anything of value as a CVS customer — nothing of value that I couldn't already do.)

Is there value in this being a tablet app? Yes, there is, but only when the tablet is standing in for a desktop computer. There's nothing in this app that would give a CVS customer a reason to lug it into the store. The mobile phone version delivers the identical data. (This argument was wonderfully articulated in an IBM commercial about five years ago, the one ending with the developer saying: "I don't know how to do that.")

Brian Tilzer, SVP and Chief Digital Officer for CVS, issued a statement touting the new iPad app, carefully avoiding any promises that it would actually do anything new: "As a pharmacy innovation company, CVS/pharmacy is committed to deploying new and emerging digital technologies that empower our customers on their path to better health. The new CVS iPad app provides the millions of customers who visit on a tablet device each month with a virtual feeling of visiting their neighborhood CVS/pharmacy from their home or on the go. Our app makes it unbelievably easy for customers to shop, fill prescriptions, manage their ExtraCare accounts and more through a highly personalized experience and 3D realism."

One way to use the high-resolution iPad screen would be to have replicas of all product labels. Double-click on an item on the shelf and the shopper can read the fine print on the front and the back, just as if they were in the bricks-and-mortar store. For in-store, the app could leverage item-level RFID and directed shoppers to the desired product within an inch. Currently, the best it can offer is to identify the aisle. That much the typical shopper can do on their own, by simply looking at aisle signage. It's zeroing in on the Tylenol Sinus Congestion & Pain Daytime (versus the Tylenol Sinus Congestion & Pain Severe) that is time consuming. But this app doesn't even try to address that.

For more:

- A Chain Store Age story about the app's introduction

- The CVS news release about the app's introduction

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