We are now spending more time than ever on our mobile phones. Recent research suggests US consumers are dedicating five hours per day to their mobiles, with the time spent in apps rising 69% year on year.

Interestingly, with media and entertainment apps like Facebook and Netflix taking up the largest share, shopping apps are said to account for just 5% of users’ daily time.

While initial downloads of retails apps are actually on the rise, app abandonment and preference for mobile web remain big roadblocks. So, are consumers simply bored of retail apps? Or is the technology failing to live up to expectations? Here’s a bit of analysis on the subject.

flurry app stats

Lack of investment

In a recent study, L2 found that 44% of luxury retail brands have removed their apps from the app store since 2015. Meanwhile, 56% of brands with an app currently in the store have not updated it in the past year.

It's unclear whether apps being outdated is the reason that consumers are failing to download them, or whether retailers are not updating them because of this lack of interest.

It’s a tricky one, but interestingly, it appears consumers might not be too fussed either way. McKinsey found that just 4% of the shoppers it surveyed had ever downloaded a luxury retail app, with many citing that they’d only be interested if it has something exclusive to offer, such as discounts or rewards, or something highly useful, like an easy-to-browse catalogue. 

Greater focus on mobile web

The fact that mobile apps don’t tend to offer anything different to mobile sites seems to be the main cause of disappointment for consumers – not just in the luxury market. 

In an Apadmi survey, 54% of consumers cited better incentives and loyalty schemes as something they’d like from retail apps, while 38% said rewards, and 33% said customer service. 

Elsewhere, 26% of consumers said they would like to see retailers implement AI tools in apps to offer a more personalised shopping experience. 

Despite this demand, it seems a lot of retailers are failing to deliver, choosing to invest in optimising the mobile web experience instead. There’s good reason, of course. Last Christmas, a third of all online purchases came from mobile, with this predicted to rise to 54% this year. 

That being said, shoppers may turn to mobile browsers to conduct product research before turning to apps to make purchases, while people who buy regularly from a brand are more likely to use an app.

This begs the question, are retailers losing out on loyalty by failing to invest?

Function vs. fun

Amazon is one obvious example of a brand that has furthered loyalty through its mobile app. And while some consumers might cite innovation as a ‘must-have’, Amazon shows that functional features can be far more effective than flashy technology when it comes to satisfying users. 

With simple navigation, one-click ordering, and cart sync with web, shopping via the app is the natural choice for Amazon consumers, with a reported seven in ten doing so. Of course, this is bolstered by general trust in Amazon, with its business model and reputation perhaps contributing to its success in this channel.

Meanwhile, it’s also important to remember that Amazon is a third-party marketplace, as are other popular retail apps like Etsy and Ebay, which tend to draw in regular customers rather than one off shoppers. 

Where should retailers focus?

One of the main issues for retailers is simply grabbing the attention of consumers. Nine out of every 10 minutes on mobile apps are said to be spent in the top five user favourites (which are usually the big guns such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram etc). This means that retailers need to provide something of real value in order to justify taking up space on a user’s smartphone.

So, how can retailers do this?

As I previously mentioned, rewards and loyalty programs appear to be a big driver for consumers, also giving brands a way to differentiate an app from their mobile site. 

Augmented reality is another innovation worth exploring. This works by allowing users to view products in different contexts. One example is Ikea Place, which lets you see how furniture might look in your own home. By providing shopping inspiration as well as help in a more functional aspect – i.e. how a product looks or if it is suited to a certain context - AR automatically gives users an incentive to use the mobile app.

Innovations in retail apps

So, what other retailers are investing in mobile apps, and is it paying off? Here’s a few final examples.

ASOS

With users reportedly spending 80 minutes per month in the ASOS app, the retailer has clearly got its strategy right. One of the main reasons is that it is super easy to browse, making use of catwalk videos to effectively showcase products.

Other features also help to differentiate the app, giving users a reason to choose it over mobile browsing. There’s the one-touch pay feature, for example, which makes purchasing quick and hassle-free. More recently, it’s also integrated visual search into the app, allowing users to find items based on imagery rather than keywords. 

Gucci 

While most luxury brands are shutting down apps, Gucci is one that continues to heavily invest in the area. In fact, it’s recently added a whole host of new updates to drive interest during the Christmas period, such as the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ feature that only works when users scan a mobile sticker in store window displays. This shows how the brand is not merely using the app to drive in-app purchases, but rather, as a way to connect both the online and offline shopping experience. 

Other features, such as Gucci emojis and stickers and a virtual reality video also demonstrate the brand’s intention to attract users through fun and immersive elements, which ultimately might increase the chances of a purchase direct from the brand rather than from a department store or elsewhere.

Warby Parker

The iPhone X’s new face mapping technology has given brands another way to elevate their apps. One of the first to take advantage of it has been Warby Parker, which uses the technology to recommend glasses that will suit a person’s face shape.

Previously, the brand used augmented reality to let users virtually try on glasses, however with face mapping, they are automatically given suitable recommendations, revolutionising the way people are able to buy the product.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 17 November, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Just to correct Kevin C Tofel's tweet, because it's important that people realize apps and iOS itself can't access Face ID, except to ask it to identify the user. Otherwise it could be hacked.

Warby Parker's iPhoneX app uses data from the phone's TrueDepth camera to supplement their existing recommendation engine, which works as you say.
http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/11/08/warby-parker-app-uses-truedepth-camera-in-iphone-x-to-recommend-frames-that-will-best-fit-the-user

28 days ago

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