Does Every Retailer Need a Mobile App?

Written by Natasha Janic on April 18, 2019

When retailers envision the customer experience they want to deliver, the first order of business is often, “We need a mobile app.” As consumers became mobile-first, an app evolved into a necessity for most retailers, but with over 2 million mobile apps available for download in both the Apple and Android App Stores, has this tactic run its course?

By 2021, it’s projected that mobile app downloads will soar to 352 billion, but only 3% of consumers’ time is spent on retail mobile apps. So, while there will be an abundance of mobile apps, the opportunity for retail apps is still slim.

The number of retail apps downloaded by consumers doubled in 2018, but it still only grew from two to four. These are the types of retail apps consumers are most likely to use:

  • 81% use mass merchant retailer apps (e.g. Walmart, Target)
  • 77% use pure online retailer apps (e.g. Amazon, Overstock)
  • 79% use apparel retailer apps (e.g. Revolve, Nordstrom)

This begs the question, will consumers download your mobile app? Let’s explore what consumers really want first.

Power to the People

On average, consumers have around 80 mobile apps downloaded, using around 30 apps on a monthly basis. However, other studies suggest that most consumers only use 5 non-native apps (meaning apps that did not come pre-installed on their phones) per day.

Even with smartphones evolving to include massive amounts of storage, (the newest iPhone has a 512GB option compared to a measly 8GB in its earliest models) consumers still only have a limited amount of time and attention to give to their mobile apps.

Why Consumers Use Retail Apps

The good news is that loyalty programs are a great way to get customers using a retail mobile app. Customers also expect a lot more functionality from mobile apps that will require retailers to holistically assess their digital strategy.

Simply having a well-designed mobile app won’t make the cut. Retail mobile apps must provide functionality and convenience that customers don’t necessarily have access to otherwise.

The Mobile App Race

What began the mobile app rush in the first place? Before mobile apps, email marketing was all the rage. It still is, but it’s now producing more of a “pop” than the big “bang” it used to, largely due to volume and saturation, so push notifications through a mobile app seemed like a great solution to this problem.

With the rise of white label app developers, branded mobile apps became available to the masses and a great alternative to email. Opt-in rates for push notifications are around 68% with click rates around 8%. While that may seem high, that means that 32% of customers who have the mobile app downloaded, are not opted in for messaging so regardless of how personalized and wonderful the customer experience is, those customers aren’t getting the message.

Widen the Funnel

This isn’t to say that retailers shouldn’t have mobile apps at all. It’s a great way to deliver a unique customer experience (more on that later), but making it your primary tactic can limit the number of customers who you can communicate with. Broadening the channels through which a customer can interact with your brand widens the funnel of how many customers you can build a relationship with.

Some customers will prefer email, some SMS and some want the experience of a mobile app. Opting for technologies that support a customer experience across a variety of channels is imperative in casting a wider net across your customer base, especially when it comes to loyalty and engagement programs.

Even more important, is choosing a technology that empowers you to start building relationships with your customers today without having to decide on a mobile app right away. Maybe the best option for some retailers is to start with email or SMS, and start learning about what their customers want. There could be a demand for a mobile app down the road, or there might not be, but making sure that the technology supporting customer engagement and loyalty strategies is equipped to handle any and all of these channels is critical.

Defy customer expectations by giving them the power in determining how they interact with you, and if that includes a mobile app experience, make sure it provides a unique and personalized experience.

Make It Memorable

Before summoning all hands on deck for a mobile app, ask yourself: does it make sense for my brand? Is this something my customers want? If a mobile app is how a significant amount of your customers want to interact with your brand, then the investment is worth the enhancement it will bring to the customer experience when done well.

It’s important to remember, however, that a mobile app should not be your entire strategy, but a channel within your strategy. Rather than starting with a mobile app, start with the desired customer experience.

Consider these questions:

  • How can a mobile app enhance your customer experience?
  • How can you differentiate it from what’s already out in the market?
  • Is your mobile app straightforward and easy to use?
  • Do you have resources to maintain and update the app over time?

In Conclusion

This blog post isn’t an anti-mobile app post. Rather it’s meant to draw attention to the idea that there are customers you want to reach as a retailer who maybe don’t want to interact with a mobile app and prefer email or text. Ask yourself the hard questions before making a significant investment and build your strategy before you build a mobile app.

TL;DR does every retailer need a mobile app? Short answer is no.

Learn more about how Hatch can support your desired customer experience across all channels.