Why retailers need native apps in 2016

While many retailers have taken the option of responsive design to optimise their sites for mobile users, the value of native apps should not be ignored.

With the help of some extracts from our Digital Trends 2016 report, I’ll look at the importance of native apps for retailers.

Many retailers have gone down the responsive route for mobile optimisation, as this is seen to be the best all-round option.

There are advantages to this approach. For one thing, it means that retailers have just one site, one CMS and one URL to manage.

The drawback is that sites are unable to tailor the user experience for individual devices, though different options such as adaptive design can provide this option. This is where apps can help.

It’s generally accepted that retailers should prioritise a mobile website over native apps, as this provides the broadest reach. Indeed, mobile web audiences are growing more than twice as fast as those for apps.

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ClickZ columnist Andy Favell makes a compelling case for prioritising mobile sites or web apps over native apps, and this is undoubtedly the correct approach for a first mobile project.

As he explains in the article:

There remains a common misconception that native apps are an alternative to mobile-friendly websites, but this is not the case. The mobile-friendly site is there to serve the mobile masses – it works on any handset… or any other device that has an internet browser.

However, once retailers have a mobile optimised website, this isn’t necessarily the end. Native apps still have a place.

Sure, ensuring your app is noticed isn’t easy, and retention rates are low, but they offer the opportunity to provide your most loyal (and potentially most valuable) customers with the best possible experience.

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Helen Colclough, Ecommerce Development Manager at River Island, extolls the virtues of native apps.

It doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ situation. Customers perceive native apps to be a cleaner shopping experience, more trustworthy when they consider signal speed or security and an easy way of quickly accessing their favourite retailer’s digital channels in comparison to the mobile web.

Apps are the new browser bookmarks, email newsletter, credit card AND shopping list. Habitual usage of your app both in store and online is the Holy Grail of the engaged returning customer and absolutely worth pursuing.

River Island has a very good responsive site already, but it also has several native apps to cater for customers across different devices.

There are apps for iOS, Android and Windows, with one planned for Blackberry too.

RI apps

The benefits of native apps

So what does the app offer that a mobile site can’t deliver?

With native apps, companies have more control over the user experience, as Helen explains:

Native apps allow you to be more device specific than the mobile web can possibly be– and make those increments in usability for Android or IOS users that drive customers to audible grumbles and abandonment (aka the dreaded lack of back button, use of burger menus or colour of main interactions).

While mobile commerce has grown rapidly, conversion rates on mobile devices lag behind those of desktop.

According to IMRG stats,  the average mobile conversion rate is now 1.9%. 

This is up from 1.4% in 2014, but lags behind the average conversion rates of 3,8% for tablet devices.  Indeed, just 24% of total mobile commerce sales are via phones, the rest are from tablets. 

Some of this is due to buyer behaviour on mobile. People are often buying on the move, in a hurry, whole others will use mobile devices to research, but complete purchases on desktop.

User experience is a big factor in this. A small screen makes it harder to browse, select products and, perhaps most significantly, complete a purchase.

Most important is ease of checkout. The fact is, users find it a chore to enter their card and address details on a small screen.

There are a couple of ways to solve this problem:

1.Make the checkout as smooth as possible

Avoid friction where possible, and should not place barriers in front of customers. For example, Boots asks users to register before checkout.

This is more work for users, and probably means Boots’ mobile conversion rates are relatively low, certainly for new shoppers.

Boots mobile checkout

Instead, retailers should remove as much hard work from the process as possible. River island does this in a number of ways.

Firstly, it’s well-designed and works well, but it also provides some useful shortcuts for shoppers.

The postcode lookup tool saves some data entry, while the payment page has an option to scan card details to save entering all of those numbers. This, along with the PayPal option, means that shoppers have a little less work to do. It all makes a difference.

River Island app

2. Save customer payment and address details

Saved payment details mean mobile checkout is about as easy as it can be made. No need for all that data entry, just enter your email and password.

Sure this is possible on a mobile site, but the beauty of an app is that customers are likely to remain logged in. It’s a small point, but it makes repeat purchases that little bit easier.

It’s also the reason why I have made so many impulse purchases on Amazon.

In addition to the ease of repeat purchase, native apps can also contribute to the offline and in-store customer experience.

So, the map function knows the customer’s location, can find the nearest store and even provide directions.

river island app map

As Helen explains, they also offer the chance to do much more, from product notifications to payment:

In store digital experiences need to be seamless, simple, and usable…and in your customers pocket. Notification your click and collect parcel is ready, that an item in your wishlist is available in the store you’re passing or tracking the fact you came in last week and looked at jeans three times without buying are all possibilities for improving customer engagement and/or enriching data.

In summary

While responsive design is a great catch-all solution for mobile optimisation, it can fail to take account of device limitations. Native apps allow retailers to adapt more effectively for each device and improve usability.

As Helen points out in our trends report, 2016 could be the year of the native app…

You can download the full 46-page Digital Trends 2016 report now. 

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