It’s been 10 years since Apple and Google launched their respective app stores. There are millions of apps available for download and they account for the majority of our smartphone use. But only a handful of them. 
Earlier this year, App Annie found that the average person only uses about 10 apps per day. Social media and entertainment are featured heavily in those 10; retail apps, less so. Amazon (No. 12) is the lone retailer in the top 20 on the iOS Store’s Top Charts. Only two others—Starbucks (No. 30) and Target (No. 31)—crack the top 40, even as people are making more mobile purchases than ever before. Why?
Most retail apps leave something to be desired, according to Jim Cusson, President at retail marketing agency Theory House.
“I think of that quote from Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he says. “A few years ago, there was this rush to build apps and everyone wanted one, whether it had a true purpose or not. You see a lot of injured soldiers on the battlefield now because companies have invested money in an app that’s obsolete.”
What’s the point?
Mobile should be a huge part of every retail brand’s strategy. This past Cyber Monday was the first $2 billion mobile shopping day in U.S. history. Similarly, mobile devices accounted for 90% of sales during Alibaba’s record-breaking Singles Day in November. L2 also found that mobile has double the influence of desktop; phones influenced 80% of consumer purchases last year.
However, mobile devices often blend into physical shopping. Ninety percent of consumers use their phones in-store, looking up product and price information, and downloading coupons. Nailing the omnichannel experience  is where many brands struggle.
According to Cusson, it all comes back to adding value and solving a shoppers’ needs. Where he lives, in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, it’s common for people to use their go-to grocer’s app for digital couponing and shopping lists. But inside the grocery store, he thinks it makes more sense for individual brands to complement third-party apps, rather than create their own.
“The products have labels printed with nearly-invisible barcodes. If you use a grocery store’s app, those labels can be like hidden QR codes,” he explains. “You can take a picture and similar to Shazam, gain all kinds of information. What are the chances you have a Stoffer’s app?”
According to SundaySky’s recent Retail Personalization in the Age of the Mobile Shopper report , 70% of consumers value seamlessly being able to navigate between on- and offline. The only thing more important to them is speed.
For Mausam Bhatt, SVP of Product at RetailMeNot, one problem with retail apps is a general lack of focus.
“Most retailers aren’t quite sure what they want out of the app, whether that’s anchoring transactions, complementing online business, a discovery platform or a mobile wallet ,” he says. “Users tend to get lost because apps aren’t tailored to an experience and instead, go from browser to discovery to in-store shopping. Focus on doing one thing really well first.”
In his opinion, retail apps can improve that with personalization . Amazon is arguably the master of that , and has the most popular retail app in the iOS Store. Personalization is also regularly cited as a big part of what makes Starbucks’ app such a success. (Starbucks’ app holds more money than many banks. )
Rachel Eisenhauer, Head of Marketing at SundaySky, points out that personalization has to go deeper than simply having a welcome screen with someone’s name. She adds that millennial and especially Gen Z shoppers have grown accustomed to personalized experiences, and retailers must take that into account. One app that comes to her mind is Sephora, the brand at the top of Sailthru’s Retail Personalization Index .
“They even use augmented reality so you can see different colors of makeup on your face,” she says. “Virtual fitting rooms are an in-app behavior that consumers really want. These personalized, relevant recommendations are putting you in the app.”
Despite what Kevin Costner heard in the cornfield, you building it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they will come. People generally download far more apps than they actually use, and retailers must have a personalized, omnichannel experience if they want to be part of consumers’ regular app rotation.
Check back tomorrow to see which retail brands are winning the mobile app game.
- ^ account for the majority of our smartphone use. But only a handful of them. (www.emarketer.com)
- ^ the omnichannel experience (www.clickz.com)
- ^ SundaySky’s recent Retail Personalization in the Age of the Mobile Shopper report (sundaysky.com)
- ^ a mobile wallet (www.clickz.com)
- ^ improve that with personalization (www.clickz.com)
- ^ Amazon is arguably the master of that (www.clickz.com)
- ^ Starbucks’ app holds more money than many banks. (www.forbes.com)
- ^ Sailthru’s Retail Personalization Index (www.sailthru.com)