Mobile Measurement Shows Why iPhone and Android Retail Apps Fail


There is an interesting article today on Mobile Marketer entitled “Some big retailers ignore their apps but at what cost?” that’s definitely worth a read. The discussion focuses primarily on why some retail apps perform extraordinarily well in terms of increasing engagement, driving loyalty, and of course scooping up incremental sales. Meanwhile, other mobile phone apps from retailers languish – whatever the level of mobile marketing put behind them. There’s some great thinking and quotes in the article – perspectives we see corroborated via mobile measurement and analytics.

The core premise of the article is that retailers that ignore their mobile apps are missing a major opportunity. And that perceptions that may exist at those companies about mobile apps not being worth the trouble are based upon flawed thinking, given that so many retailers do so well with apps.

So why do some mobile phone apps succeed while other fail? To answer that question, it’s helpful to look to mobile measurement data, for in these figures we can identify the problems that befall problem apps. At Apsalar, our expertise in mobile measurement — studying consumer actions before, during and after an app user visits the app store — affords us a unique view into hundreds of app businesses worldwide. By examining mobile app customer data from both Android and iOS mobile devices, we frequently see patterns in the data on in-app engagement, intent and transactions in retail apps.

What our measurement tool and analysis show is that weak or failing apps consistently display one or more of the following characteristics. And most frequently exhibit many of the following characteristics:

Poor Utility/Buying Experience: We won’t spend a lot of time here, but suffice it to say, if your Android or iPhone mobile application doesn’t deliver on the price of entry for a transactional retail app, you’re in deep doo-doo. People aren’t going to jump through hoops to give you money. If a reasonable number of your users aren’t transacting in your app, you need to use mobile measurement and analytics to dissect your buying experience, from app load to thank you page, to find out where you are losing users.

For this mobile customer funnel analysis, it can be helpful to think of in-app customer actions in the context of engagement, intent and purchase. If you are seeing lots of “engagement” events – app loads, product searches, size and color checks, but relatively few intent events – add to cart, find a store, begin checkout – then you have likely pinpointed the (or at least one of) your bottlenecks. If everything looks good until the final step, then you should have no difficulty to find the experiential issues that warrant your attention. To determine what are reasonable rates at each stage, it can be helpful to look at your website for guidance. Fix these issues first, before you move further down this list, and before you spend millions on mobile advertising campaigns to drive additional installs or re-engagements.

Missed Utility Opportunities: If your mobile device application is simply your website delivered on a small screen in a tidy container, you really are missing out on a many of the potential engagement occasions with your consumer. Apps offer unique advantages versus both the PC- and mobile webs. The Mobile Marketer piece points out that many of the most successful mobile apps include features like bar code scanning, which is an example of offering something in an app that both drives incremental launches and improves the user’s brick and mortar shopping experiences. It’s an example of using the ubiquity and portability of a mobile phone to grow your business. With mobile industry data showing more than 80% of consumers using their phones in store – for product info, price comparison, etc. – this is a great example of a feature whose time has definitely come.

It’s also a great way for a brick and click retailer to create competitive advantage over pureplay internet companies who may have lower cost structures. Of course bar code scanning isn’t the only such feature you can incorporate. Mobile App developers and publishers should get creative in identifying and incorporating ways to leverage the unique capabilities of mobile apps to further their business goals.

Weak App Value Proposition: Utility is the price of entry for a retail app. Such a mobile app needs to make mcommerce – transacting in the mobile app – as frictionless as possible. But according to Nielsen, the average Android or iOS smartphone has about 100 apps on it, even though consumers only use 10-15 app regularly. While some research studies show differences in these figures between Android versus iPhone users, this pattern is overall consistent regardless of operating system or mobile devices studied. Simple math suggests that for an app to truly need to be successful, it needs to offer more than just price-of-entry features and benefits. To be top-of-mind, an app needs to do more. That’s why so many retail apps are enhancing their core transactional offerings with rich content and interactivities. It is hoped that these vehicles to encourage engagement will keep an app top-of-mind and in regular use. And our mobile analytics data show this to be the case. In general, more content and more frequent updates correlate to greater depth of engagement. Nothing shocking there, of course, but it’s good to see horse sense corroborated with empirical evidence.

Key here, though, is a lesson many brands learned the hard way in the early days of building brand sites — brands need to recognize that their expertise begins and ends with their business category. It’s unlikely, for example, that a branded app can offer games that can compete with games produced by gaming experts. There are a few brands that have been able to extend their equities beyond their core offering – Starbuck’s for example. But in general consumers are most likely to value in-app content that is in your category “wheelhouse.” People would turn to a paint company mobile application for color guidance, for example, but are far less likely to rely on such an app for the latest hip-hop MP3s.

Static Content: When content doesn’t change, you don’t give people good reasons to return and engage. But is there an ideal frequency for content refreshes to maximize engagement? Well, one of the most interesting things we are seeing in our measurement tools as a general global trend is a gradually increasing frequency of content refreshes. In India, where Apsalar works with many of the largest mcommerce companies, we see clients updating content daily, with both changes in featured products and promotions as well as new text, photo and video content debuts.

The ideal frequency for your company relates to your target audience, their propensity to engage in your category, average purchase cycle, engagement frequency objectives, and the cost of producing new content. Use mobile measurement to uncover the relationship between engagement and refreshes. That said, most retail brands change offers frequently and other types of content infrequently. There are certainly categories in which that formula can work, though recognize that you are training your customers to be more and more deal-prone.

The Mobile Marketer article suggested a content refresh cadence of quarterly. It’ll be interesting to see if that recommendation evolves over time as consumers get conditioned to better and more multifaceted retail experiences. Again, we have clients refreshing daily!

No Personalized Communications: Re-engagement of app users is the fastest growing sector of app marketing. And it’s not just a mobile advertising story. Rather, there is overwhelming evidence that more and more personalized communications with consumers result in increased visits, orders, AOV, and LTV. That’s true for Android and iOS mobile devices. Hard to argue with all that. One of the key areas where we are seeing overwhelming marketer interest is in the ability to segment app users based upon behaviors and then export/deliver those audiences to a wide range of marketing contact platforms that deliver push notifications, emails, message center alerts, etc. That’s why Apsalar has broadened its capabilities to enable customers to action mobile measurement data – to create audiences and securely export them to their choice of vendors. Our Apsalar Audiences for Facebook offering is a great example of a service that does all of this easily and seamlessly.

The Mobile Marketer article points to the need for updating app capabilities – like incorporating beacon technology, as a means of upgrading the value they offer consumers. It’s hard to argue with that. We’d expect to see growing consumer usage of such capabilities in the months ahead, and will keep you apprised of developments there. But clearly this exercise is valuable for what it shows in terms of “what works” as well as the value that marketing measurement of consumer behavior in apps can play in helping application developers and publishers diagnose the strengths and opportunity areas in their mobile apps. Just as marketing data helps us make better decisions outside of apps, it can also help us better determine what we should put in them.


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