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Building a Retail Store Mobile App in 2018

We’ve been building retail mobile apps for a while here at Koombea.

A few years ago, we wrote a piece about preparing your retail store for a native mobile app build, and, as you will know, technology moves fast!

This got us to thinking about all the changes we’ve seen over the years, and what it takes to create a successful retail store mobile app in 2018.

Let’s take a look:

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Retail mobile app use

The use of retail mobile apps has exploded in the last few years. We’ve moved beyond “you need an app for your retail store,” to “you need an amazing app for your retail store.” With increased availability comes increased customer expectations, and retailers need to keep up.

According to reports from App Annie, retail apps continue to show strong year-on-year growth in downloads from both iOS and Android:

“Retail continues to migrate to apps, as both e-commerce and traditional retailers double-down on their mobile shopping experience in response to consumers’ mobile shopping appetites. We expect to see this trend continue as retailers adjust to the new shopping environment with mobile as the cornerstone of success.”

US mobile users now spend about 50 minutes per month in shopping apps. In other markets, this figure is even higher.

Retail mobile app

The average minutes per month spent in shopping apps has shown consistent growth year-on-year, in alignment with an increasingly mobile public. Shopping habits are shifting, and retailers need to ensure they’re keeping up.

One of the busiest shopping days of the US calendar is always Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. In 2017, mobile sales were the big story, hitting record highs. Sales via mobile device made up 46.2% of total online revenue. This was out of a total $5.03 billion in online sales! If your retail store is still mainly focusing on what to do in-store on those days, you’re ignoring a large number of customers who demonstrate a preference for mobile.

Essentials of retail apps today

When we wrote about preparing for a retail mobile app a few years ago, we listed a few basics to take into consideration. Overall, these still stand, but with the developments over the years, here are a few more vital things to take into account:

Omni-channel experiences

Omni-channel is huge in the retail space. In a nutshell, this means finding ways to bridge the online and offline worlds, and providing a consistent experience for customers, no matter which shopping channel they use.

Many shoppers will go through multiple channels before finally making a purchase. They find something in an app, but want to see it up close in store, then perhaps they prefer to purchase using the app.

Retail apps increasingly need to assist customers through other shopping channels. A Lowes customer can head to their local store, pull out the mobile app, then use it to navigate and find the items they need.

Here are just a few potential features which help the omni-channel experience:

  • Ability to see whether inventory is available at their local store
  • Features such as in-store mapping, that guides shoppers to the product they’re looking for.
  • Ability to pay via the app in-store and skip long checkout queues.
  • App exclusive discounts and bonuses while in-store.

Personalized experiences

Retail customers are telling us that they’d like more personalized experiences. In fact, with today’s use of big data to assess and deliver relevant information through all kinds of channels, it’s becoming an expectation.

Mobile personalization is an opportunity for disruption. This could be your way to stand out from the crowd and offer a truly immersive experience to the end-user.

Personalization comes down to how you use the data you gather. A customer might set up a profile with your app, and you might start to make some suggestions based on preferences they have provided. Once they develop a shopping history, you can hone in even further on what it is they prefer.

Examples of personalization include:

  • Product recommendations based on user preferences and activity.
  • Geo-targeting. For example, a customer with location services turned on might receive a message if they are near the store, telling them of a special or making them an offer.
  • Allowing the customer to create lists or set “favorites.”
  • Personalized offers or coupons.

“Gamification” of shopping

Customers often tend to respond to a sort of “gamification” of their shopping. For example, perhaps they can earn rewards by using the app, or maybe the retailer drops in occasional surprises to delight them. Giving people the chance to win a prize they can apply to merchandise they were likely thinking of purchasing anyway helps create a greater sense of added value for consumers.

Gamification might mean combining elements of “play” and common game mechanics, such as including badges, points or incentives. It’s a fun way to keep users engaged.

Some examples and ideas include:

  • Victoria’s Secret Pink Nation App. This merges mobile commerce with games, contests and special offers.

  • Using in-store gamification features. For example, earning badges by taking up special offers or doing certain activities, or awarding points for in-store check-ins. Another idea would be in-store scavenger hunts.
  • Earning stars or badges for shopping.

Ease of functionality

One of the top reasons people give up on or delete retail apps is poor functionality. This might include things like slow speeds, features that don’t work or other bugs with the app. Remember, people are now quite spoiled for choice – if your app isn’t functioning at a top level, it’s fairly easy for them to switch over to a competitor’s app.

In 2018, expectations of app functionality are higher than what they were a few years ago. Retailers need to nail down the app experience so that there are no bugs or hiccups. In fact, apps should be very thoroughly tested before release to ensure that functionality is up to standard. You seldom get a second chance with customers if their first experience was a poor one.

Simple checkout and payment options

Research does tend to back up that the fewer steps to your in-app check-out process, the better your retention rate. Customers are demanding simple and streamlined. Put too many hoops in their way and they tend to abandon the transaction.

Payment options play a significant role in this too. Increasingly, customer payment preferences are actually helping to shape the retail landscape. In particular, millennial shoppers tend to be early adopters of newer payment options such as Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, PayPal and others. Koombea client, Mercado Movil listened to these payment preferences, and had us update their payment options as part of a build recently.

As Paymenteye discusses, another benefit to retailers of providing additional payment options is that it allows them to capture more comprehensive customer information, and build a clearer picture of customer behavior. This can aid in the design of loyalty programs and personalization efforts.

Retail mobile app

Have (and use) good app analytics

One of the challenges for retailers when it comes to mobile apps is setting themselves apart from competing apps. The app market has become highly saturated in the last few years, so it’s important that retailers have a good strategy to attract and retain customers.

Having good access to app analytics and taking the opportunity to regularly analyze them are crucial for retailers wanting their app to be a top choice. How are customers using the app? Which features are the most popular? When and where are they using the app? Are there any roadblocks or common complaints?

Savvy use of analytics can help to give retailers an edge. You’ve got to understand your user preferences very well so that you can deliver more of what they want and devise appropriate user acquisition strategies.

As an example, consider those statistics around Black Friday sales above. If you already know your customers are big mobile users, you might prepare ahead by ensuring you have the infrastructure in place to support a shopping influx on the app and looking at running app-exclusive deals for the day.

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Final thoughts

Retail store mobile apps are an essential feature for savvy retailers. Customers are demanding smart, omni-channel experiences and streamlined shopping technology.

In 2018, digital-first retailers are still outpacing “clicks and bricks” retailers for retail app sales. The challenge for retailers is to create apps that stand out and meet the expectations of an increasingly mobile-savvy public.

Koombea builds engaging apps for retailers. Talk to us about how we can help you with yours today.

Robert Kazmi VP of Sales and Marketing

Disruptive growth sales leader with a passion for helping customers solve complex business challenges with world-class solutions, and developing quota-crushing sales teams.