“To app or not to app?” The case for and against developing an app for your business.


Mobile World Congress, Flock Associates, Blog

One of the headaches facing businesses today is which direction their mobile strategy should take. Whether or not a business should have a mobile strategy is no longer a question, of course, it is a given.

There are a multitude of devices and platforms to consider when going down the app route, each requiring a very different approach. Looking at things from a customer perspective: they don’t care. They simply want things to work and to complete their task with ease, irrespective of platform or device. A fully mobile optimised website could just as easily solve your issue of a mobile strategy couldn’t it?

The case for apps:

Ultimately apps need to deliver some form of enhanced customer experience and utility over and above the normal desktop experience. In a recent report from App Annie and Kantar Retail, both Amazon and Argos were referenced as the leading large retailers in UK app downloads, both having focused on simplifying the shopper experience with their ‘1-click’ purchasing and reservation features. Other retailer apps, such as those of John Lewis and Topshop, have focused on improving the in­store experience with unlockable content and barcode scanning to access reviews and recommendations. Why consider apps as part of your mobile strategy?

Brand and loyalty

Most people only use a handful of apps consistently and actively each month and those are invariably for brands with which they enjoy a greater degree of loyalty. Typically, banking, energy company, BA, Amazon etc… Starbucks in particular is one of the better-known success stories in terms of customer mobile apps. Its app, like that of BA, is critically central to its loyalty program. The economics of app development across competing platforms and devices, with all the inherent costs of updates, etc. requires a certain level of brand recognition and scale for it to be viable.

Enhanced experience leading to increased conversion

For apps to appeal to customers and retain a level of regular usage, they must use the phone’s embedded technology such as the camera and location based features. iBeacons are an interesting feature that helps Apple identify its customers in-store, greet them via the app, guide them through the store and offer timely and relevant promotions. An app can also help to improve conversion rates by simplifying the payment/checkout process. Through the smartphone’s camera, iBeacon or NFC features payments do not even require a card.

The case against apps:

Last week Google announced that from 21st April it will be ‘expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal’. The impact that this move will have on the future development of apps by retailers remains to be seen. Below are some of the main reasons why apps do not make much sense as part of your mobile strategy going forward:

The competition has an app, so should I…

In the early days of mobile apps, there was the gold rush mentality and many brands were falling over themselves to out do each other in the App Store. Many of these projects were driven primarily by vanity – is it worth driving customers away from your real-estate to an App Store?

Integrated customer experiences

If your app is not providing some enhanced, unique functionality and utility as part of an integrated customer experience, then your limited marketing resources would be better deployed on making your website fully mobile optimized. Many apps are sadly built as product showcases or catalogues, with few offering the ability to make a purchase in-app, instead shunting you off to a mobile site to transact. This breaks the customer journey and negates the need to have developed and asked your customers to download your app in the first place.

Single Customer View

Data and single customer view are crucial elements that will inform your ability to optimise the customer journey, experience and ultimately unlock opportunities to generate growth and value. Apps add significant complexity (and expense) to being able to harvest and analyse customer interaction data. Not to mention they often break the customer journey.

In short, if you are not a large-scale retailer with a significant loyalty program, apps really do not make a lot of sense. You would do better to focus your efforts on your mobile website, whether that be a responsive/adaptive site, or a dedicated mobile site.

Please feel free to ignore this advice and invest in an app, however we would ask you to answer the following three questions when making your final decision:

• Does your app offer enhanced utility above and beyond your mobile website experience? (e.g. Enhanced payment/checkout, iBeacons, barcode scanning, etc.)

• Does your app help retain customers and engender loyalty? (e.g. personalised offers, discounts and instant loyalty rewards, etc.)

• Where does the app fulfill a gap or need in the customer journey/experience and can we harvest and analyse the data from it?

How does an app fit in to your mobile strategy? Let us help. Get in touch.

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