It’s time to say goodbye to bad apps

Oct 18, 2016

Melissa Fruend, Partner, LoyaltyOne Consulting

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of a study from COLLOQUY, provider of loyalty-marketing publishing, education and research since 1990.

Many brands, such as Starbucks and Sephora, have lots of users and praise for their apps; others, including some big-name brands, have fallen short.

So, what can be done to amp up apps and make them a more effective tool in loyalty and marketing? Here are a few suggestions:

Keep it simple

Complications spell aggravation and disengagement, including any clunkiness involved in joining a rewards program. An app that dumps too much on a consumer too soon is also asking for trouble, said Jona Neo, group product director, digital and technology solutions for Simplified Access, a provider of concierge and loyalty programs.

“It’s about the consumer getting a sense of what you’re providing, and creating a habit with him,” said Ms. Neo. “Then once you have a base that’s loyal, you can start rolling out new features.”

Know your users and don’t waste their time

At GameStop, communicating about a specific game or gaming system with a member who is loyal to a different one is a big problem. Said Darin Smith, senior director of PowerUp Rewards, about GameStop’s loyalty program, “To send them the wrong thing totally disenfranchises them.”

It is critical for brands to constantly monitor and adjust how many and what kind of messages they are communicating. Typically, honing in on just one or two key functions drives success. Said Richard Feinberg, a professor of retail management at Purdue University, “The most used app is the Starbucks app, and it does something very specific: People pay with it, and they get free drinks.”

Experiment and experiment some more

The Gap app lets users mix and match garments and share results on social media. Sherwin-Williams’ app lets users color virtual walls in endless variations. Sephora has a digital try-on feature; users “try on” false eyelashes or lipstick shades.

Experticity, which works with Dyson, North Face and Quiksilver, just added an online community to its app that rewards “category influencers” with insider access to content and products. Some brands are adding virtual “bots” to their apps that use automated scripts based on keywords to improve interactions with customers. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for retailers looking to drive downloads and use of their apps? What common traits do the most successful retail apps share?

"For retailers to break through with their app, they must provide something incredibly useful that can not already be found via mobile search."
"The truth of the matter is that shoppers have already said goodbye to bad apps."
"Retail apps need to be able to do retail! Sounds simple, but how many retailer’s apps actually let you buy things...?"

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12 Comments on "It’s time to say goodbye to bad apps"

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Chris Petersen, PhD.

The research I’ve seen indicates that customers only use about five apps they have loaded on their phone. For retailers to break through with their app, they must provide something incredibly useful that can not already be found via mobile search. The last thing customers want is more ads!

In the age of omnichannel consumerism, click-and-collect is growing rapidly. If there’s one thing that a retail app should be able to do it is to provide me with the ability to search inventory at a store, enable me to make a mobile purchase, notify me when it is available to collect in-store and allow me to pay by smartphone. Keeping track of my receipt digitally for warranty work or to enable return would be especially valuable.

Max Goldberg

If your app does not make life easier for consumers, it shouldn’t be in the app store. Every retailer feels it needs an app. That’s not true. As the article states, simplicity and utility are must-haves in any successful app. Consumers consistently use only a large handful of apps. Make sure yours provides something worthwhile, something beneficial. Otherwise, you are wasting consumers’ time and your money.

Susan O'Neal
11 months 2 days ago

People wonder if downloading and opening an app is going to be worth their time. Different people value their time differently. Remove the uncertainty by valuing someone’s time and attention and you remove that friction entirely — growing not only the breadth of your mobile audience but retention and frequency of engagement. Every moment of every life has value. Today an exploded ad tech value chain captures all of that value and keeps it for themselves. If you capture some of that value on behalf of your shoppers and give it to them so they can buy more in your stores, you win.

Shawn Harris

People keep apps that have some utility. That utility can be educational, informational, entertaining, offer material everyday convenience (saves me time) and/or provide everyday savings (saves me money). Historically, retailers have focused on what’s best for them — commerce. Solve real problems to gain stickiness and thus adjacent (commerce) use.

Adrian Weidmann

In-store apps, with very few exceptions, simply don’t work! Shoppers do not want to interrupt their journey to login to an app. A recent study found that two-thirds of all apps are discarded within a day and that 97 percent of all apps are discarded within a month. Beacons need apps to communicate. What happens if people don’t want the app? This is why I’m not a fan of beacon technology for in-store experiences.

Exploiting existing Wi-Fi availability for proximity marketing and merchandising solutions and providing relevant information and offers to folks that opt in has much broader appeal and potential.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

My colleague, Dr. Nancy Childs, who followed me as the FMI Peck Fellow, conducted a comprehensive study of desired supermarket characteristic apps. Some of the most relevant are as follows:

  • Identify coupons and special sales offers;
  • Create a shopping list before I go shopping;
  • Provide exclusive discounts to me for using the app;
  • Track my retail loyalty points and incentive programs;
  • Provide a shopping list for ingredients for specific recipes;
  • Help me locate specific products within the store while I am shopping;
  • Provide nutrition details on specific products;
  • Recommend substitute products if the one I am looking for is unavailable;
  • Provide specific dietary recommendations for my family;
  • Suggest the shortest route within the store for my shopping trip.
Lee Kent

If the app does not provide a service for the customer that will make their shopping journey faster, smoother and more personal — rethink it!

That’s all for my 2 cents!

Shep Hyken

Here is the question to ask: Is the app experience consistent with what the experience the customer? Starbucks is the case study for creating an app with a positive and consistent (easy, simple, quick, etc.) customer experience. Keep it consistent with the traditional in-person or online experience, and the app is a winner.

Mark Heckman
Trend studies tell us that folks are shopping more stores for their needs, both online and in-store. These same reports paint the picture of a shopper who wants to be focused and efficient, not one that will tolerate extra steps or work on their behalf, even if there is some incremental value for them in the process. I think we know what makes apps good or bad Easier is to use better than harder, payment options are good thing, and certainly if I can save tangible amounts of money and time, we know that shoppers will at least give you a test ride. But the truth of the matter is that shoppers have already said goodbye to bad apps. Today, practically every retailer in the shopper’s consideration set has their own app with their own nuances and functions, which lives in its own world, and doesn’t connect to any other retailer the shopper might engage. In this world, shoppers learn over a short period of time which apps to use and which they delete to make more space on their mobile device. In a perfect retail world, multiple retailers will learn that it is better to reside on a “community”… Read more »
Alan Lipson
11 months 1 day ago

I have always tried to look at things from the consumers point of view. How is this app helping me accomplish my task today with this specific shopping experience?

If the app can help me find the products I’m looking for, help me compare and contrast products, provide me with coupons or other incentives all in appropriate context then I will probably want to use and advocate for the use of this retailer’s app.

Throw ads at me or fill my inbox with unrelated and not wanted spam then I will quickly remove the app.

Ken Morris
Consumers are continually bombarded with retailers and other companies trying to get them to download their mobile apps. There are only so many pages of screens that consumers want to scan through so they are becoming more selective when deciding what apps to download. Everyone seems to be reaching app fatigue. That said, there is hope, as savvy retailers are figuring out the secret sauce to get consumers to download their apps and use them on a regular basis. has more than 5 million users of their mobile app and Starbucks is driving as much of 20% of their revenue from mobile apps. There are two keys to mobile app success: frequency of shopping and engaging features. First, consumers are not likely to download an app unless they are a frequent customer of the brand, anticipate that the will use the app regularly or get a great value for using it. Otherwise, why waste the time to download the app and have it increase the clutter on your app screens. Once customers have downloaded your app, success will only be achieved if you can get your customers to open the app frequently. Frequency is driven by engaging and valuable… Read more »
William Hogben

Retail apps need to be able to do retail! Sounds simple, but how many retailer’s apps actually let you buy things, at home via ordering, in-store via mobile self scanning and in between via click & collect?

The age of downloading apps for apps’ sake alone ended 5 years ago. Consumers don’t want apps, they want functions – apps need to provide the key functions to keep them coming back. My prediction is that mobile self scanning is going to be the anchor function that drives adoption for the next generation of retail apps.

Sam’s Club’s apps serve to illustrate my point. Their existing application has already been out-downloaded and out-ranked by their new self scanning application — consumers want retail apps to do retail!

"For retailers to break through with their app, they must provide something incredibly useful that can not already be found via mobile search."
"The truth of the matter is that shoppers have already said goodbye to bad apps."
"Retail apps need to be able to do retail! Sounds simple, but how many retailer’s apps actually let you buy things...?"

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