Are app frustrations loyalty crushers?

Discussion
Mar 23, 2015

While a slow checkout line, an awkward return process or a snarky sales associate can play havoc with consumer loyalty, a poor app experience can be equally detrimental, argues CA Technologies.

Declaring brand loyalty now has a "six-second shelf life," the software maker concluded in a new report that brands not delivering a positive application experience risk losing as much as a quarter of their customer base.

The study, "Software: the New Battleground for Brand Loyalty," surveyed 6,770 consumers and 809 business decision makers in 18 countries exploring the app user experience. It identified three characteristics that have the biggest impact on the consumer experience:

1. Quick Loading: 68 percent of consumer respondents who left a brand because of poor load times say a loading time of six or less seconds was acceptable. Slightly more than half of those respondents demand a load time of less than three seconds.

2. Simple Functionality: More than 70 percent of consumers ranked "perform tasks with little difficulty" and almost 80 percent ranked applications that have "easy to use features" as top drivers of their decision to utilize or purchase an application.

3. The Assurance of Security: Out of users who had a fair or poor experience, 10 percent said that they would leave a brand forever because of issues with security.

Specifically around retail, the survey found 47.7 percent of respondents had used an app to shop at least once over the last six months, 46.3 percent had made online purchases with an app over that period, and 44.2 percent had researched a potential purchase. Showing the widespread acceptance of apps, more than half of respondents would be willing to use apps to perform tasks like paying taxes, managing healthcare and voting in elections.

"Consumers no longer view applications as nice-to-have novelties. They now have a huge impact on customer loyalty," said Andi Mann, VP, strategic solutions, CA Technologies. "As businesses navigate a new, always-connected reality that produces vast amounts of ambient data, they must react by delivering a personalized, secure and engaging application experience."

Are consumers increasingly grading retailers based on app performance? Is loading time, functionality, security or something else the biggest hurdle for retailer apps?

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20 Comments on "Are app frustrations loyalty crushers?"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

If the shopper has a choice between two chains, all things being equal, app performance is critical. I doubt the “losing a quarter of the consumer base” claim. If the app doesn’t deliver, I still have a number of ways to buy from the retailer, either online or in-store. It would have to really get me annoyed to say, “I’m not shopping from this retailer any more.”

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust
While I think that declaring that brand loyalty has a six-second shelf life is a heck of a lot of hyperbole, I must confess that I am still often amazed that retail leaders have little to no idea what their apps do or how that experience fits in with the rest of the channels. I know plenty of retail leaders who boast about being in a store every week. But have they tried shopping their app? Their mobile site? Have they tried starting a shopping trip in the store, transition it to the app, then completing it on a desktop? I see so many experiences that fall apart when you start asking questions like that. It doesn’t take a six-figure usability study or software investment to find those gaps in the customer experience. For consumers to articulate in a survey that they will abandon a retailer over the loading time of the app—I’m not sure I buy that this is what they actually do. I’m pretty sure they sense a bad experience more holistically than that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them had a hard time articulating exactly what they hate about it. Instead of surveys or… Read more »
Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

While consumer expectations are certainly increasing, I would say that as far as loading time and functionality there is still a wide margin for error. You may lose some shoppers to other, better apps, but the competition is not exactly fierce at this point and in my experience people are just as likely to switch to using their computer in hopes of finding a more functional user experience on the same store’s website.

The priority must be placed on security across all channels, closely followed by an excellent online shopping experience, as that is where expectations are highest.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

I concur with the research findings, particularly loading times and functionality. Research by Catalina indicates that in the food retail channel, 31 percent of shoppers have downloaded a shopping app and 41 percent have used mobile coupons at grocery stores. However, the most telling statistic is that 62 percent are extremely or very likely to use digital coupons in the future. Therefore the apps need to be glitch free and consumer friendly.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Consumers have always graded retail apps on performance, just as they grade websites before apps. Load time, functionality and security are the biggest hurdles. Time is precious. Ease of search, quick checkout and security all would top my list of must-have features. I wonder, however, if every retailer needs its own app. Unless it brings significantly different functionality to consumers, some retailers should be able to simply repurpose their websites to be used on smartphones and tablets.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I support Nikki’s comments about how retail leaders had better be familiar with how their non-brick-and-mortar interfacing with consumers actually works. The issue is often times that testing internet/mobile connectivity is left to those who designed it and/or others who are familiar with how it works.

Like most people, I have spent time on the phone talking with help desks that tell me “do this and that and you will get X” only to find out when they try logging in on their own account that it doesn’t work the way they expected, or that particular functionality is not working at the moment.

Because I find most mobile apps lacking, I prefer to use my computer for doing any research before I leave to go make a purchase.

Gajendra Ratnavel
BrainTrust

This is certainly true. Having a poor experience on mobile and online is frustrating. Enough to leave a brand? Perhaps if it’s consistently poor.

One thing to note for retailers is that app experience has many factors. Some of those are out of your control. A mobile device is a personal tool and you won’t have control over the speed of the Internet at the customer end, the speed of the actual device, screen quality or compatibility with your software. Save for the compatibility, the other issues I mention will affect your competitors as well.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

The digitally empowered shopper expects that digital experiences will make her life easier. Apps tend to get in the way of that expectation. Out of the 48 percent of respondents who said they used an app to shop, it would be interesting to know which apps. Was it Facebook, Pinterest, etc., or a brand-specific app? Typically brand-specific apps simply don’t maintain themselves with shoppers. A notable exception is Starbucks. We live in a nanosecond world where six seconds of brand loyalty is generous. If your app slows your shopper down or frustrates them it’s worse than having no app at all! An app falls under the guidance of the old saying, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Marc Millstein
Guest
Marc Millstein
2 years 3 months ago

Customers using apps absolutely make judgements about retailers if the experience is frustrating, meaning the apps are slow to load, under-perform in functionality, or have security problems or other flaws. There is no free pass for the apps space if ever their was. Perhaps some leeway still but not much.

The biggest need, or challenge, is two fold: Creating an app that provides genuine value for the consumer but also works well. Slow loading or failure to load is probably the biggest challenge. It happens too often, frequently associated with the diversity of devices in use, and customers have very very little patience for failure to load problems.

But delivering on the promise of “meaning”—what does it offer—requires that the app is well thought out and designed. It must deliver something beyond a brand awareness experience.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This seems like one of THE most obvious surveys of the last twenty years. The app experience is functionally an extension of or the next iteration of the web experience and these issues have been present online since people gave up dial-up modems.

UX is everything. Fast, clean, clear, usable websites and apps are a no-brainer. It strikes me that retailers overall still have not learned much about serving their customers and in the case of (the many) bad apps and me-too apps, they’ve given into industry peer pressure to put out an app with little thought of the customer, how the customer will REALLY use the app, user benefits and what the end-to-end experience will be like. Of course, that’s why people like me work hard to make retailers get that understanding.

Bill Davis
Guest

It’s one of several measuring sticks. If an app is difficult to use for its intended purpose, then that creates a bad experience for the customer. If it’s persistent, people will look elsewhere as it shows a disregard for their time and attention.

One thing not mentioned in the article that negatively impacts customers is indicating inventory is available, but then having to follow up after an order has been placed to let the customer know it isn’t.

Consumers have heightened expectations these days and retailers that meet/exceed them will be rewarded.

Martin Mehalchin
BrainTrust

When it comes to studies like this you have to consider the source, but it does appear that consumers, especially younger ones, are grading retailers on their overall digital performance. Not just apps, but also ease of shopping the website, how they manage their Instagram account, how relevant their emails are, etc.

As far as loyalty goes, if a retailer has strong loyalty drivers in other parts of its business (in-store experience, solid rewards strategy, unique merchandise), mediocre app performance is unlikely to be a driver of disloyalty. However, a great app can be a strong tool to acquire or reinforce consumer loyalty. Sephora is one retailer who has done this well.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Consumers won’t give retailers a bad “grade” for bad app performance (slow, functionality, etc.). They just won’t use it. If it’s hard to load or use, they just move on. And getting them back is tough. They’ve already experienced the problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t continue doing business with the retailer, but it does mean that the retailer may miss the opportunity to interact with the customer through this particular channel.

That said, if the primary way to do business with the retailer is via the app, and the competition has an easier/better solution, the competition can win.

Martina Olsen
Guest
Martina Olsen
2 years 3 months ago

Don’t think we are quite at that stage yet. Sure the app’s performance, security, and loading time all affect how consumers regard the app, but unless the app is the brand’s only sales channel, I don’t think users will abandon the brand. They’ll stop using the app, sure—but not the brand as a whole. It’s a different story with new users—they may well be put off by a slow app without exiting content, and take that to mean the brand is not worth engaging with elsewhere either.

So many brands are launching their own apps these days, but do not seem to regard it as part of their overall brand strategy. Many are little more than a mobile website and hold little value for the user. Those are apps that will get deleted. Other apps, with slow load-times or other functionality problems, will also get deleted.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Yes, shoppers have little patience for mobile apps that are cumbersome to use. The technical capabilities need to be optimized if any hope of utilization on a long-term basis is desired. Consumers will abandon the apps if they aren’t easy to live with, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will abandon the merchant completely. The merchant will simply lose a channel of revenue. The mobility of the merchant will continue to increase in importance, so this should not be ignored.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Yes. When we are ready to purchase, as consumers, any delay in our purchasing decision only leads to frustration and disgruntled users looking for anything to blame, including the app that they are using. This is an obvious issue for anyone who has ever used an electronic device and had to wait, or wonder if their purchase will happen, correctly, and when.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
What strikes me is that this supports my concerns that we’re throwing huge expectations on “technology” without seriously considering the challenges. So, as a former technologist, let me suggest a few rules… If you can’t do it right, don’t do it. You can easily hurt your business more by having an ineffective App than by not having an App. Those things you choose to do, do right. But that means only choose to do things where you can be highly successful with the technology. Far too many  apps I encounter promise consumers all the vast functionality some consultants say they SHOULD do. But truth is, I’d be far happier with something far less that works right. Be sure to match the cost of your investment in technology with a realistic view of its impact on your business. The cost of doing it right might be far more than the return – even when you look at a 5 to 10 year horizon. All this said, I’m cautious about this survey. It is always concerning to me when the interpretation of the results directly point to “spend more money getting services from the survey sponsor.” I think what they’ve found is… Read more »
Vahe Katros
BrainTrust
The six second load time reminded me of FMOT, First Moments of Truth, P&G’s term to describe—what was it seven seconds?—to win over the customer at the shelf. Google’s riffed off of this with ZMOT, where they essentially said that the decision window began with them. Now we have APPMOT—the application load time needed to avoid frustrating your customers. What to conclude? Humans have a sense of time, and the have a psychological response when their expectations are not met. Whether it’s an app, an elevator, or checkout time, managing wait times is part of our service world. What are the hurdles? Hire and pay Architects who will design your systems and apps appropriately. Make sure you have systems in place to monitor network and cloud performance—especially during peak traffic moments—and write robust service level agreements. Approve geeky budget requests for sophisticated monitoring systems that can help track app-level, network, and cloud performance. Any suggestions on solutions providers? Wait, wait! Or you can have a screen while your app is loading that says: RUNNING LEVEL-FIVE-NSA SECURITY AND IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION SYSTEM – PLEASE WAIT WHILE WE CONFIRM! Writing that splash screen might take a low level programmer a few minutes and… Read more »
Alan Lipson
Guest
Alan Lipson
2 years 3 months ago

In my experience, the most important aspect is that the app be useful for me as a consumer, rather than for the retailer. My grocer has an app that allows me to use it as my loyalty card. This is good for me in that I no longer have to carry another card in my wallet or a fob on my keyring. However, the usefulness is lost when I want to use self-checkout as the loyalty barcode can only be scanned by the “cashier.” Therefore it has now become a barrier rather than an enabler.

Another issue is that there is a shopping list feature. However, I have to populate that list with each individual item. Since my grocer has my shopping history going back about 20 years or longer, they should be able to at least populate my last X visits to the store and let me click on those items I wish to add to my shopping list for my current visit.

It is simple and direct items that add to the consumer experience, but that can hurt the experience just as easily.

Retailers, first and foremost, should always ask “how this is helping my customer?”

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
2 years 3 months ago

Retailers, yes! Everyone else—yes! An app has to work. One false move and an app is off the screen and this is easy as there are multiple apps for everything! Now a retailer might not have but one app, but the retailer is competing with similar retailers and if your app doesn’t work you are toast. Now who put you in this situation? This is one of the main reason Apple has achieved so much success. Others have not fared as well.

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