Using the Cartwheel app in Target


2014 has been a turbulent year for Target. Between a breach of data security that compromised millions of customer credit cards in February, to the ousting of CEO Gregg Steinhafel in May, the company now faces an uphill battle of restoring consumer trust and driving a strong bottom line through the end of 2014.

Fortunately for Target, it’s December, and the holiday shopping season is upon us. With consumer spending expected to top last year’s haul—initial Gallup estimates expect a 4% increase—it’s essential for any retailer to offer an optimized mobile experience in order to take home its share of the spending pie this season.

Enter Cartwheel by Target—the latest app aimed at enabling an augmented shopping experience on mobile devices. The app is part loyalty card, part digital coupon clipper, and part Target catalogue.

As an unapologetic coupon-clipper (I’ve endured many iterations and am an active user of Safeway’s “Just for U” savings app), I knew I had to give Target’s latest innovation a shot. I dutifully downloaded, created an account, and began perusing the grocery and home furnishing savings.

Cartwheel New User Experience
The first screens of the Cartwheel app promise users can “Choose, Scan, and Save” with ease.

It’s important to note that there is no checkout functionality in the app. In order for Cartwheel to drive any business impact, it must drive its users to redeem their savings and complete shopping in-store or online.

To achieve that goal, Cartwheel users must take the following actions after downloading the app:

  1. Create an account
  2. Load their card with a maximum of 10 offers
  3. Visit Target, in-store or online, and collect discounted items
  4. Check out with Cartwheel barcode for the app-linked offers

Did I successfully complete an offline purchase? How could the process have been easier?

The Cartwheel app has quite a bit going for it: It has a wide variety of offers in nearly every department, which could satisfy a wide range of potential users. It’s also beautiful; I found myself enjoying the color palette, iconography, and UI/UX subtleties. But there’s no doubt this app could be optimized to encourage more successful in-store purchases.

Let’s look at a few key areas Target should be experimenting with in order to optimize for more purchases and higher engagement with Cartwheel.

The First-Time User Experience

Currently, first-time users like myself are shown a murky first-time user experience after logging in.

The home screen of Cartwheel is the barcode, which links all of the app offers to a single, scannable image. This makes sense, to an extent: anyone opening the app must be able to quickly access the barcode in order to check out efficiently. However, a first-time user needs to be able to add offers in Cartwheel for the barcode to be of any value. I’d recommend testing the effect of changing the landing experience for first-time users.

Test letting users brows a catalogue first, and direct them to the barcode with an alert or in-app notification.
Test letting users browse a catalogue first, and direct them to the barcode with an alert or in-app notification. A possible variation pictured on the right might use a banner across the top of the app.

For instance, the “Collections” section of the app presents a beautiful, magazine-like experience for browsing offers. Why not send new users here for a more immersive, engaging experience?

The barcode is still an important part of Cartwheel’s functionality. To ensure that users are able to get back to the barcode, I’d suggest a butter bar-like banner that provides instruction on how to navigate to the barcode, or displaying the barcode on second or later uses of the app.

Lost in a Sea of Coupons

Once I started tapping around, the next problem with Cartwheel emerged: it was going to take me at least five minutes to comb through all of the offers in the app. While this might be helpful for boosting session length, I’d argue it’s not an optimal experience for users.

To cut through the coupon clutter, the navigation experience could use some A/B testing. There are currently 14 major categories, each with at least three subcategories. I found myself scrolling through dozens of offers with only a search icon and these filters to guide me: “Newest,” “Discount,” “Trending,” and “Expiring.”

After tapping on the filters, I found out that I was browsing narrow categories with few offers in them, and that the four filters were far too granular to be helpful.

Cartwheel Original Navigation

A different approach would be to test grouping the categories so there are fewer of them, or to allow users to reorder or dismiss categories that aren’t of interest to them. I’m envisioning a “swipe to dismiss” function, much like my Mailbox app. For instance, I don’t have children, so “Baby” isn’t a category where I’ll do much shopping.

Cartwheel Variation Navigation

Personalize the Experience

Finally, the Cartwheel experience could use some personalized touches.

First would be the idea to pare down or prioritize the categories of offers available to users that I outlined above. This could be taken many steps further, however, by personalizing many parts of the engagement cycle.

For instance, my email offers have come on a daily cadence since I created a Cartwheel account for the app. The offers have spanned from cleaning supplies and greeting cards to children’s toys and men’s jeans. It would be ideal if offers were more targeted and relevant to me, and would make sifting through the offers on the app less cumbersome.

An intriguing test would be a survey for new or returning users that allowed them to set their preferences. This could be part of the on-boarding “getting to know you” stage of the user’s experience, or it could be a step that’s reserved for users that re-engage with the app after successfully redeeming offers.

Cartwheel Variation: NUX Quiz
What a possible Cartwheel user on-boarding survey could look like. Cartwheel could use the results of this survey to deliver personalized coupons to users.

With this information, Cartwheel could suggest relevant offers—like ideas for holiday gifts that I’m in need of, supplies for entertaining, or some accessories for an upcoming Christmas party. There are many aspects of this new feature that could be experimented with and optimized.

While Cartwheel is still a great app, it needs some extra optimization finesse to make sure that its users are getting the most out of its service.

For me, personally? I tried to redeem an offer on parchment paper for my holiday baking, and 20% off new hand towels. The latter weren’t available in my local Target, and sadly, the barcode failed to scan when I checked out, and my discount was calculated manually by my cashier. Maybe there’s some offline optimization that needs to happen in this case, too.