This article was originally published in Internet Retailer’s Mobile 500 report.
How retailers can drive app downloads and keep customers coming back
by Ramneek Bhasin
We now live in a world where more mobile phones are activated each day than there are babies born. And, overall, U.S. tablet penetration will rise from 46.2% of the population in 2014 to 52.1% in 2018, according to research firm eMarketer. Not surprisingly, our mobile obsession is fueling mobile commerce. U.S. m-commerce transactions reached $41 billion last year, up nearly 70% from the year before, according to eMarketer. The combined sales of all U.S. merchants ranked in the 2015 Mobile 500 will increase an estimated 74% in 2014 to almost $59 billion.
As more consumers purchase smartphones and tablets and keep their devices within reach all day, marketers have taken note. In the past few years they have flooded the landscape with mobile apps, hoping to stay connected with the growing mobile user base. As of July 2014, both Google Inc.’s Android mobile operating system and Apple Inc.’s iOS had more than 1.2 million apps each, available for download.
In Google’s app marketplace, Google Play, more than 23,000 apps are available to consumers in the shopping category, but only about 5% of these have more than 50,000 downloads. In this competitive landscape, how can retailers vie for consumer downloads and, more importantly, engagement? Mobile use has become an ingrained habit in consumers’ daily lives, and consumers using their devices to shop today often turn to search. Mobile search still drives almost half of retail traffic, according to Nielsen and Google research. More than other types of app developers, retailers must place their mobile strategy bets to address both mobile web use and mobile apps. One way to do this is to invest in promoting an app via mobile paid search. Once downloaded, retailers should consider the customer payoff for using an app. For retailers, customer satisfaction and expectations in and around the shopping journey are key.
A recent IM Research study examined consumer satisfaction with specific aspects of mobile shopping apps and identified features they value most:
- Making it easy to find and apply valid coupons, check prices, and find the best deals available and ease the checkout process.
- Finding local availability of products and enabling multichannel purchase functionality (for example, completing a purchase on a phone or tablet, then picking it up in a store).
- Providing fresh content such as new products, reviews, information and trends.
Target Corp. and Crate & Barrel are two retailers following these steps above. For example, Target’s Cartwheel app offers in-store coupons and Crate & Barrel offers gift registry via an app.
Consumers use their smartphones and tablets in their day-to-day lives in very different ways. Therefore, as a retailer develops a mobile app, it’s important to understand how these devices can enable and enhance the shopping journey. Due to size, tablets are used primarily at home, school or work and less often while out and about. Smartphones, on the other hand, are only an arm’s length away from shoppers, so these devices are more convenient and are being used extensively to find, compare and provide information like store hours and locations.
Session lengths tend to be longer on tablets versus smartphones. This is due partly to context. Tablet users are at situated in one spot for a while instead of on-the-go. Screen size also plays a role. With their larger screen sizes, tablets are ideal for more detailed exploration of content and products whereas smartphone usage tends to come more often, but with shorter durations. That means a tablet might be more suited for rich imagery and multimedia such as videos, look books and editorial content, while smartphone apps should be easy to navigate and quick to load.
To illustrate how retail brands use mobile apps differently, we looked at the iOS apps for Blue Nile Inc. and Tiffany & Co. Both apps focus on engagement rings but take very different approaches. The Blue Nile app is functional and contains all the necessary information to research, select and purchase a diamond engagement ring. Centering on BlueNile.com’s “Build Your Ring” functionality, this male-targeted app is a solid example of a commerce-focused app. Shoppers can select their specific diamond cut, setting and price to build a complete ring step-by-step and make a purchase right in the app
Tiffany & Co.’s app is centered on exploration and browsing for such a considered purchase. Targeting both men and women, the app balances functional information like product images and educational content with brand experiences that inspire, like the “Try it on” feature that allows a user to share a picture of a Tiffany ring on her hand with friends and family. A user cannot purchase in-app, but they can make an appointment to speak with a Tiffany diamond expert.
The secret to finding, growing and maintaining a group of app users is to develop highly relevant, sticky apps that give a reason for shoppers to come back. Understanding the needs of customers and how they use tablets and smartphones differently is critical. To do this, a retailer should develop mobile app experiences that:
- Foster brand loyalty through features, functionality and content.
- Are personalized right from the start and can be easily tuned for users on an ongoing basis.
- For tablet apps, provide rich browsing experiences large images, alternative views, videos and reviews, while leveraging touch interfaces.
- For mobile apps, enable ease of sign-in and fast checkout.
App approaches will vary by retailers based on a range of factors such as business goals, technical resources available to design, build and maintain mobile apps and capacity to invest in driving adoption and continued engagement. Regardless of whether a retailer is focused on sales, brand engagement, or both, apps should be easy to use and provide a reason for shoppers to not only keep them on their mobile devices but also to keep opening them.
RAMNEEK BHASIN is general manger, mobile and vice president product for TheFind Inc.