It’s true that e-commerce has dramatically changed the way the average consumer shops. Steady in-store foot traffic has been slumping for years, while online research becomes more prevalent for today's consumers. Before making big purchases -- those that cost $500 or more -- approximately 80 percent of shoppers start their journey with online research.
Simultaneously, smartphones are playing a bigger role in shopping, and even connects shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores. While browsing in a physical store, 73 percent of shoppers are on their smartphones doing research on the products they consider buying.
In other words, even outside the realm of e-commerce, a brand’s web presence still impacts a customers’ purchasing decisions. Brands can use this knowledge to their advantage by developing apps that help users learn more about their products. While some companies may be tempted to rely on their mobile sites, apps offer benefits that mobile sites don’t.
Advantages of mobile apps for retailers:
According to a recent survey, consumers spend about seven times longer on mobile apps than sites or browsers. Shopping apps are also rising in popularity: In 2014, mobile shopping app downloads increased by a whopping 170 percent.
It’s also worth noting that among customers who turn to their browsers for research, 60 percent begin on a search engine, 61 percent read customer reviews before making a decision, and 51 percent abandon their carts if a digital annoyance happens before customers reach the point-of-sale.
Additionally, during the research and transaction phase, a lot of other distractions on the internet could keep shoppers from completing the transaction. With a mobile app, this isn’t as much of a problem.
Apps also allow retailers to customize their own analytics so they can more effectively track customer behavior. An app also keeps your brand at top of mind for customers. Think about it: they’re constantly seeing your brand’s icon on their mobile device and soon enough, you’re integrated into their daily life.
What's in an app?
Just because an app can help boost sales, doesn’t mean that any ol' app will succeed. Your app needs to genuinely offer useful features that make life easier for the consumer.
1. Embracing new technologies is one way to offer features that are truly valuable. For instance, augmented reality technology is capable of allowing users to “try” certain products at home before making the purchase decision.
Case in point is Wayfair Inc.’s app called Wayfair View, which allows users to superimpose images of furniture or fixtures onto images of their homes, so they can better understand what an item might look like in the physical space.
IKEA released a similar app. Sephora uses AR to let users “try on” makeup virtually. When customers can try products via their mobile devices, they’re more likely to head to a store and make a purchase.
2. Gamification is another way of making an app valuable to customers. Just consider Nike’s app, which lets users connect the app with a FuelBand. They can then post goals, track workouts, and challenge others to competitions. The app tracks a user’s achievements, rewarding them with loyalty points they can trade in for benefits, like advanced workouts and customized product ordering. Gamification makes the app fun, while also driving purchases and brand loyalty.
3. Optimizing the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is another way brands can connect all points on the customer journey. For example, New York ice cream brand Van Leeuwen partnered with PayPal to offer location-based promotions. Users who download the PayPal app and enroll in the program are alerted with coupons and similar promotional offers whenever they get near one of the ice cream shops. Other brands could develop apps that offer coupons when users step into a designated geo-fenced field.
While mobile sites are crucial for brand building, apps have huge potential to greatly improve the retail experience while keeping your brand constantly in customers’ minds. Develop one that customers truly value, and you’ll see sales boost in both your virtual and brick-and-mortar stores.