Does every retailer need an app?

Missguided's Swipe to Hype retail app

Practicology consultant Amanda David studies the benefits that a mobile app offers and decides whether all retailers need one.

With the recent announcement that the Apple App Store receives 500 million weekly customer visits and has had 180 billion downloads, it appears that consumer demand and prospects for apps are stronger than ever. 

It’s not just apps in general, but retail apps specifically. A worldwide UPS survey revealed that 64% of consumers have used retailer apps, but 53% preferred using a retailer’s mobile site. This begs the question: is developing an app the right move for every brand and how should retailers make this decision?

Missguided Swipte to Hype app 2.jpg

Listen and understand your customer

Remember, the customer is king and should dictate your channel strategy. Whether it’s via social media, a post-purchase survey, in-store or through a focus group, talk to your customers. This feedback is invaluable and you will invariably get a return on the investment.

Womenswear retailer, Missguided, presents a fantastic example of this. Its customers made it clear that they wanted a shoppable app and Missguided duly listened, building a “swipe-to-hype” Tinder-style app and ultimately reaping the rewards. In the four months after launching on iOS, Missguided made £30 million in sales from purchases on the app.

The demographics of your customer base should also influence your decision. For example, ‘Millennial generation’ customers within the 18-34 age bracket are more likely to utilise an app as long as it provides a good user experience and fulfils customer needs.

Your audience will also dictate whether you need both iOS and Android versions of your app. Although it is preferential to have both, retailers often ‘soft launch’ on one operating system to gauge reception. Location is also a determining factor in this decision. An international brand may prioritise Android as it has 75% market share in Europe, while a solely UK based retailer may look to launch on iOS first. 

What is your product? 

Evaluating customer demand is paramount, but the product also has a major part to play.

Apps are great for retaining customers by encouraging engagement, loyalty and repeat purchases. However, for a couture fashion retailer producing a small catalogue each season, with prices upwards of £20,000; or a high-end furniture retailer specialising in quality, long-lasting products, a transactional app will probably add little value. In these instances, it may be worth investigating a content-focused app.

 Using Apps in store.jpg

What is the USP?

There is little point in developing an app that exactly mimics the functionality of your mobile site. Apps offer additional USPs and can be fantastic tools for bridging the gap between online and offline.

For retailers with a bricks and mortar store presence, consider how the utilization of an app could shape the in-store experience. For example, an in-app barcode scanner could enable the customer shopping in-store to place an order for an out of stock product for delivery later that day. This would utilize the app’s key advantage over mobile sites: access to the device camera.

John Lewis’ app includes a ‘Kitchen Drawer’ of stored receipts enabling quick and easy returns and exchanges, meaning no more fishing around for paper receipts in your wallet or order confirmations cluttering your inbox.

We have seen retailers successully lauch apps that include exclusive features like:

  • A superior user interface that includes clearly defined calls-to-action with no need to zoom to enter field details.
  • Push notifications that can be used to engage customers, rather than bombard them with irrelevant information. Compelling strategies include alerting customers to promotions on their favourite brand and using in-store beacons to push relevant offers.
  • Loyalty dashboards that enable easy point collection, tracking and spending in-store and online. ASOS and Starbucks have particularly good examples of this.
  • Touch ID for account log in and payment.
  • Gamification and Augmented Reality. Strong examples of this include Net-a-Porter’s Porter magazine app, John Lewis’s use of Visual Search in their iPad app, Grabble’s swipe to like functionality, and Topshop’s ‘My Wardrobe’ quiz.
  • Interactive content including shop-from-the-page lookbooks.
  • Persistent log in and account sync across all online channels. 

Grabble screenshot.jpg

Does every retailer need an app?

To put it simply: no. But if it there is sufficient demand and it is beneficial to the customer’s omnichannel experience then it must be considered.

Whatever the decision, you must recognize that success should not be measured purely by revenue uplift. Apps also function as show-rooming and customer engagement tools, and the sales uplift will often be seen across multiple channels; online and in-store.

If you have any questions or would like to find out if developing an app is correct decision for your business, please contact us.

Join European retailers to hear more about the impact mobile is having on the sector at Shoptalk Europe, including from Facebook's Director of Retail, Ecommerce & Fintech, taking place in October in Copenhagen. See the full agenda here.

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