Reinventing the retail app for in-store success

Feb 04, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

Why exactly does a retail store need a good mobile app? There are two reasons. First, smartphones are stealing attention from the in-store experience. Second, research is showing shoppers who use smartphones spend more money than those who don’t.

However, it’s hard to convince users to download an app, and even harder to get them to use it on a regular basis.

Before the store: One key is engaging shoppers before they travel to a store and automatically fire up the mobile browser. Online advertising and e-mail campaigns are a good route because you can send consumers directly to a download link. Another strategy is redirecting users to your app when they look up information on store locations and hours. With geofencing, an alert can be sent when a consumer gets near a retail location.

Once you’ve attracted attention to your app, an incentive to download it could be an offer of related content, access to an online community, or even gimmicky entertainment like a casual game or contest. Consumers are already overloaded with content sources, which means your app has to give them something entirely new if you want them to consider investing their time.

Convenience sells: Delivering convenience, savings or both will likely prove most effective at driving in-store app usage. Features like the ability to create a shopping list or a wish list also connect at-home or on-the-go browsing with an in-store visit. Walmart is piloting a Scan & Go app that allows consumers to scan items in select retail stores, which in turn saves them time during the checkout process. Patagonia’s mobile app includes customer ratings, product reviews, and information on the carbon footprint of many products.

Other ideas for in-store engagement include offering free Wi-Fi access when consumers log in to your app, providing exclusive in-store deals for app users, and sharing a store map with search capabilities for locating individual products.

The measure of success: In the early days, retailers relied on app store reviews for user feedback. New technologies now measure the time spent in an app, user navigation paths, and even when and where users click, swipe and zoom in real time. Reliable metrics can be used to continually optimize the app for peak performance.

While retail mobile apps are still in their relative infancy, a recent survey by Artisan Mobile found 71 percent of retail executives agreed or strongly agreed that native mobile apps will become the single most important touch point for engaging with consumers over the next few years.

What do you think is required to convince consumers to download a retailer’s mobile app and encourage its use in-store? How should stores be readjusting their mobile app strategies?

Join the Discussion!

26 Comments on "Reinventing the retail app for in-store success"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Nikki Baird

It’s pretty easy – benefits that only apps can deliver, like logging in and keeping you logged in for loyalty and personalization. Like using the camera and some kind of QR type code to get more information about products. Like special features like “locate an employee” or “ask an employee to come help you.”

If retailers want apps to be successful, especially as part of the in-store experience, they need to think through a strategy that views the app almost as the remote control of the store. Everything from deeper product information to better employee access. If retailers thought through their own shopping processes as customers, I bet they’d come up with a lot of ways their apps could help. The key, though, is to focus on solving shopper issues, not on finding more ways to get offers in front of them.

Bob Phibbs

Many of the app developers seem to have worked for Valpak. Mobile phones should be used for much more than a coupon dispensary. Unless you’re Amazon, you can’t get away with giving away margins for long.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Right now mobile apps are the “thread” that ties the omni-channel experience together. The key to getting consumers to use mobile apps is to make the experience as seamless and convenient as possible. Many retailers web sites are simply not mobile device friendly. The first key to app success is that it can and should be custom tailored for smartphone screens and navigation, especially for search functions. But the real key for adoption of mobile apps is view them a part of the overall consumer experience, not a purchase channel in and of itself. Bob Moul offers good examples in his post of how to increase mobile app value and adoption. The mobile app experience starts before the customer gets to the store … the mobile app should include all relevant store information at the customer’s finger tips. A real plus would be to enable the consumer to see if the store stocks a particular item … even better if the app could show if it is in stock. The other great example mentioned is the ability to make lists on the mobile app and then use them in store. Shopping lists, and “virtual carts” are a good place to start,… Read more »
Bill Davis

They have to be a somewhat regular customer who derives value from engaging with a retailer. Delivering context relevant information and offers in store to a consumer via their mobile device is a great way to leverage both mobile and in store. And tying use of mobile apps to their loyalty program is another way to drive usage.

Stores should embrace mobile as that’s where the population is moving. Its still like the early days of the Internet, mid to late 90s, but retailers shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines here.

Cathy Hotka

Nikki’s right. The best apps aren’t focused on deals, but on the store experience, which a lot of retailers are still re-thinking. There are some new app platforms, like MicroStrategy’s Alert, that assist both customers and sales associates for larger sales. A truly successful app will not only be downloaded, but used consistently, like Starbucks’.

Jason Goldberg
There are great use-cases for retail apps, but I always caution retailers to temper their enthusiasm, as the data is a bit daunting. The overwhelming majority of apps in the marketplaces don’t get downloaded more than 1,000 times, and once the app does get downloaded, 83% will never be used more than once. Mobile apps don’t expose content to organic search, so building an audience is an uphill battle. Bob mentions two in-store mobile trends and concludes that retailers need a mobile app. I disagree. Retailers need a great mobile optimized web experience (which shockingly few have). After they solve that problem, there can be rewards for offering an app, if you can build an audience. Deals/promos, ratings & reviews, in-store inventory, and comparison pricing are the main reasons people use mobile in the store, but they are all easily delivered via the mobile web. A mobile app makes sense if you’re going to offer micro-geolocation (the beacon wave is coming), visual search, or some other feature that you can’t deliver via a mobile website. And once you earn the audience for your app, you had better have a significant ongoing budget to offer frequent updates and new features or… Read more »
Frank Riso

Maybe consumers are a bit gun shy since a few major retailers have had data breaches, but only maybe. I do think a retailer needs to do two things: gain trust and provide value. We may not need the retailer’s mobile app all the time, but letting me enter the store and then log on would be okay and again, give me value. Information is nice but saving money is real value.

Max Goldberg

Unless a consumer frequently visits a retailer, there is little reason to download that retailer’s app. Rather than focusing on creating an app and enticing consumers to download it, retailers should focus on formatting their websites to work on mobile devices.

Look at the size of most mobile screens. Look at the ease, or lack thereof, of navigating the site. Push the most pertinent information up front. Add product reviews. Add the ability to share. Make shopping carts and checkout simple.

Everyone with a smartphone or tablet can access the web. Make it easy to visit your store online.

Bryan Pearson
Here are five tips for creating loyalty through mobile payments (part of a larger article that was recently published in COLLOQUY.) You can read the full article here. Consumers may be slow to adopt mobile payments in their daily activities today, but if retailers deliver on the desired benefits, they could join what is projected to be a vastly expanding opportunity. With so many companies looking into mobile payments, some good advice is in order. Here are five key takeaways: Don’t rush it: Before making a decision on a mobile payment solution, realize that the technology is still in its early stages. Merchants should determine the key business problems they are trying to solve with mobile payment, and how the technology will help. To this end, the right provider partnership is paramount to success. Get in good with the provider: Once the right provider is selected, make the most of the partnership. An app provider will know more about the purchases customers make outside individual locations, so these companies have much to gain from the relationship. Think beyond the transaction: Payment as a utility is not enough to engage the customer with the brand The payment system should include other… Read more »
Robert DiPietro

The key for getting the consumer to download and use the app is by making it relevant to the consumer and useful. It’s not about gamification, but usefulness that matters. Some good examples are the Scan and Go that Walmart uses, creating a virtual coupon list to redeem with single scan at grocery, and mapping out my store route based on my list (e.g. Heinz is in aisle 2).

User-generated content/reviews are always helpful for customers making purchase decisions as well.

Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
3 years 7 months ago

The only necessity is that the app be beneficial for the consumer. Retailers must, however, get their priorities right. “Beneficial for the customer” requires the retailer to put its priorities second. For instance, a grocer might not think a product locator would be the highest priority item, but the customer might.

Apps that provide benefit will be a win for retailers. Those that just try and push product might not fare so well. Set your app up to guide customers to products they want, then suggest companion products (jacket to go with pants, dressing to go with turkey, etc.). An app must provide a benefit, which means the retailer must become more relevant to the consumer.

Maybe, retail should consider doing away with a sales floor and sell out of back room inventory using the smart device as a virtual sales floor. This way all of the retail associates would have direct contact with each customer and service and cost could be focused on the customer and their needs instead of moving merchandise form the storage area to the sales floor. I know this is radical, but retail is at a crossroads and something needs to happen to make retail more relevant.

Ed Dunn
3 years 7 months ago

Actionable list management is a great strategy to consider. Allowing consumers to research products, add them to a list, share the list and easily retrieve the items from the list when visiting a store (or mail order if not available) is a win-win situation.

Larry Negrich

Now that we’ve witnessed hundreds of retailers spend carts full of money at the behest of their ad agency and/or “digital partner” to create apps that are downloaded and abandoned after a few uses, I think that we can all agree that an app is not a mobile or digital strategy.

So to answer the question is, retailers should stop trying to make the app successful and think about the role it could play to improve the total customer experience. Retailers should use apps to improve and complete the shopping experience as part of a complete digital/physical strategy. Construct the experience best suited to and desired by their customer using all tools necessary – optimized websites, mobile apps, in-store experience, engagements using SMS, social, etc. and inform each with the use of analytics and customers will react positively.

Michelle Marian
Michelle Marian
3 years 7 months ago

As digital marketing expands, the key is to leverage the mobile app as an extension of multiple brand touchpoints and as a part of a loyalty program. Relevance and analytics are critical components to improve the shopper experience based on transaction and browse history.

Stores need to implement apps that enable the mobile channel above and beyond the historical desktop, integrating social and in-store experiences that allow shoppers to connect with the community as well as in-store associates.

Carol Spieckerman

At this point, shoppers are pretty much having to find their way to retailers’ apps and once they do, having to remember to use them (and exactly why they should). Once shoppers are engaged with a retailer’s app in-store, the chances of switching to another one, or visiting a competing website, go down astronomically (this is the real genius behind mobile-centric retail concepts like Hointer).

So why aren’t retailers stationing a mobile concierge at every entrance? Get rid of the greeters and bring friendly, qualified folks to the front who can quickly explain the benefits of downloading the store’s app (perhaps with a one-time incentive attached) and walk people through the process. It goes without saying that the more customer-centric the app, the easier the pitch.

Lee Kent

I can’t say it better than Nikki, however, I can add some thoughts to it. Retailers need to identify the different personas that shop their stores and map the paths to purchase for each.

The customer should be meaningfully engaged along their path to purchase and that is where the apps can play a huge part. This is called “Service Design”!

Gib Bassett

One tactic the article doesn’t mention is gamification to encourage download and initial use. Outside of Gen Y who would probably download an app without much hesitation, consumers might need an easy to consume and fun incentive to even try a retailer’s app – no matter the promise of access to reviews, deals, recipes, demonstrations, etc.

A contest you quickly enter by scanning a QR code or submitting a keyword to a text shortcode, that requests downloading the app before entry, can increase adoption among hesitant shoppers. You can place this call to action in-store on signs, in FSIs or online to increase the audience potential.

If you can also capture email or text message permissions during this process, you can use these push communication channels on top of notifications to remind consumers/shoppers how to get the most from the mobile app. Think about how many apps are downloaded once, maybe used once, then never used again.

Doug Fleener

I think it’s adding value to the brand and products. One client of ours is using it to engage customers with short videos on how products are made, what was the inspiration from the designer, etc.

The other key to convincing the consumer to download the app is to demonstrate it in the store. If the store and staff isn’t using the app, how valuable can it be?

Ralph Jacobson

This evolution is just a matter of time before it becomes more commonplace. Around the globe, outside the U.S., mobile retail adoption is accelerating faster, especially in growth markets where mobile phone use is exponential in adoption.

Consumers need a compelling reason to download and truly use an app. Regardless of whether it is a retailer, CPG brand, or any other app for that matter. If the process to use the app is more cumbersome than shopping without it, then the consumer will not leverage it. If the app adds tangible value to the shopping experience, then it becomes a significant element of the “customer journey map.”

Retail and CPG merchants need to think of mobile as “MobileFirst.” This should become the defacto process for shopping for the consumers. The world is in their hands and merchants need to consistently provide messaging and promotions that create awareness in the minds of the shoppers that the merchant’s app adds value. Period.

Crystal Leaver
Crystal Leaver
3 years 7 months ago

One of the biggest mistakes retailers can do is to copy the ecommerce site and call it good. It’s tempting, but there’s really no value to the shopper to download it. As you mention in the article store maps, product location, search, and deals provide value to shoppers, and a reason to download the app. Retailers should think from a shoppers’ point of view and ask “What would make the in-store experience better?” That’s the way to keep shoppers downloading the app, using the app, and coming back – not simply deep discounts.

Here are some other mistakes we’ve seen retailers make in their mobile apps.

Shep Hyken

A consumer who is willing to download a retailer’s mobile app is gold. It’s permission to connect, promote, etc. The key is not to abuse the privilege. If you have a customer who engages an app before shopping or during the shopping experience, you have a customer who wants to do business.

How to convince a consumer to download the app? The best way is that they just love you and want you. That comes from trust and confidence. Next is to give them an incentive; coupon, discount, membership to their loyalty program, etc.

Vahe Katros
Let’s say that convincing and persuading are the same and that the general wisdom around technology based persuasion involves the following components: 1. A trigger2. Motivation3. The ability 1. Trigger – Retailers with stores have a huge opportunity to trigger a behavior since they can deliver the pitch in those first moments of truth of engagement at the shelf. In fact they are in a position to deliver the best kind of trigger, one that is relevant in the moment – also called a hot trigger. 2. Motivation – Choosing the best in-store categories to deliver the pitch is another huge advantage. Doing intercepts in those categories to uncover the real “hows” and “whys” of engagement is another advantage. 3. Ability – Shoppers can search the App store, but making it even easier (via a QR code perhaps) relates to ability. Making it easy to execute on the pitch is also party of the conversion storyboard. These ideas are not mine, they are from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.(moderator: please insert the following: Your first sales job is to drive a download and there are so many app companies that would love to deliver their pitch at the zero… Read more »
Mark Price

As retailers strive for an omnichannel communications program with consumers, having an app that consumers can use in-store is one key piece. It helps to address issues of showrooming while giving retailers a direct pipeline to their consumers, particularly their best customers.

The key is to provide a motivating reason to download the app and then to launch it in-store….

James Tenser

Mobile app proliferation leads quickly and certainly to mobile app fatigue. I think most retailer apps begin circling the obsolescence drain on the day they are released. Most are weighted down with low-utility copy-cat features that nobody uses twice.

The moment app downloads become the overarching goal, the shopper becomes a tool, not a customer. For my money, retailers should forget apps and focus on installing high-quality in-store WiFi that ensures flawless connectivity to their mobile sites.

The very smart observations in this thread by Jason G. are worth re-reading with this in mind.

Jerry Gelsomino

In today’s digital world, consumers have begun to become very comfortable with, and expect a dialogue with a store or brand. There are too many choices of where and how to shop. Eventually shoppers will settle down a become loyal to the place that offers the most convenience and ease of shopping. Effective and successful apps keep the customer connected and act like a constant companion, even though you are not physically in touch.

Kenneth Leung

There are two parts, convincing them to download and convincing them to use the app. I would say the key is app specific and location specific benefits. An easy one is automatic WiFi sign on through the app. The other would be location specific offers, maps, and things like pricing verification (why go to a store scanner when the iPhone has a camera that can shoot bar codes?).


Take Our Instant Poll

Which of the following features will likely do the most to encourage in-store use of a retailer’s mobile app?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...