Retail apps we can learn from

The technology we now have at our disposal has led to a convergence between the physical and digital worlds. This is particularly true in the retail industry where shoppers expect a uniform service irrespective of their chosen purchase channel. The 2014 Shopper Barometer told us that 98% of those surveyed have made an online purchase, but only 18% use mobile Apps to make purchases – suggesting that the new challenge faced by retailers is to enhance their mobile offering. With mobile traffic beginning to exceed that of core on line in some of the world’s most visited sites; the use of mobile is a trend which is only expected to increase.

As mobile continues to grow, retailers and brand owners have the opportunity to capitalise by offering customers an app that increases ease and efficiency in the overall shopping experience. If an app is to be successful then it has to deliver a good user experience by being simple to navigate and provide a clear benefit for shoppers. Apps may be considered the new web, but too many companies fail to use them to actually engage with their customers. Before developing, careful consideration is required in terms of what the app is designed to achieve, and how to make it stand out. How does it help the user? How does it help improve customer loyalty? With an estimated one million mobile apps representing 40 billion downloads by consumers around the globe, you need to make sure your app works hard and fast, for any device and any user. The last thing impatient shoppers want is a piece of technology which actually complicates the purchase process. So which apps have been truly successful and what can other retailers learn from them?

One company which leads the way in its app offering is Amazon. Given its online heritage, Amazon entered the app game early and took advantage of the fact that its customer base was comfortable with online interaction and also had existing user accounts in place. These factors combined with the knowledge that Amazon is competitive on price, efficient in delivery, offers a price comparison barcode scanner and allows cross-device shopping basket synchronisation mean that this app is popular with shoppers. The key to Amazon’s success was that it kept the process simple and leveraged its best assets to try and simplify the shopping process which is appreciated by users.

Starbucks is the most frequently used digital payment app in the US with more than 5 million transactions each week. The success of this app is two-part. Firstly, in the morning rush to buy a coffee, anything which speeds up the process will be appreciated by customers but it also enables them to refill their Starbucks loyalty accounts with a few taps of the finger, offers instant discounts for free coffee or food as well as links to the Starbucks reward programme. It is this reward programme which is the second part of the app’s success. The app has looked to gamify coffee purchasing by awarding stars for items bought and offering rewards such as free refills, coupons and free drinks depending on the number of stars collected. Offering tangible benefits creates a much closer relationship between consumers and retailers with mutual benefits. The rewards aspect means that a brand loyalty is forged and consumers will start to give their custom to Starbucks at any available opportunity. The app is also smart in that it has an in-built inbox which means that Starbucks will directly contact users on a regular basis and make sure that the brand is front of mind.

A more unexpected area which has seen the successful launch of mobile apps is that of pharmacies. In the US, Walgreens and CVS Caremark have created apps which have received massively positive customer reviews. It allows management of their pharmacy needs, such as fill repeat prescriptions, search for products which are on offer and collect orders from the nearest store which they have ordered via the app. Free shipping is offered but the apps are actually more geared towards improving the in-store experience for users and removing complications that can arise with navigation in-store. Although this may seem like a basic formula to adopt, it is effective and consumers in any market appreciate simplicity when it has been well considered.

Having looked at a few cases of successful apps within different areas of retail; there are some crucial drivers which should be considered by companies who are developing their mobile offer…

Improve ease of shop

The app has to streamline the purchase process for the shopper; this can be done through simplifying buying method, making consumers aware of offers and creating a loyalty scheme which drives purchase.

Ease of use must match brand DNA

The app must be as clean and user friendly as possible because just one bad user experience can lead to a switch of retailer. Products on display need to provide relevant information and be in keeping with the brand.

Provide a problem solving solution

Another necessity is remembering what it is that makes your brand unique and what its appeal is. This means understanding how regularly people are likely to want to purchase your product and in what situations consumers purchase your product. By considering these aspects, it should become clear what the primary focus of the app should be e.g. quick payment for Starbucks or a more ‘tailored to you’ approach with recommendations like Amazon.

Brand collateral builder

The final point which needs to be considered is whether a mobile app will actually improve your overall consumer offering? Often it is the case that a retailer website will already provide your customer base with the benefits it desires and creating an ineffective app will damage your brand image and be a waste of money which could have been better invested elsewhere.

Data sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2014/01/07/5-retail-trends-to-look-for-in-2014/2/

http://econsultancy.com/blog/64136-mobile-apps-in-retail-who-needs-them

http://econsultancy.com/blog/64140-a-list-of-10-retail-mobile-apps-that-customers-love

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2013/02/28/retailers-mobile-apps-drugstores/

http://mobilemarketingmagazine.com/retail-apps-set-growth/