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5 Challenges Retail Apps Must Overcome

5 Challenges Retail Apps Must Overcome

Mobile has clearly become the driving force in retail, propelling it to the next level. Consumers use their mobile devices in a variety of contexts: to make a purchase on the go, research products at home or while shopping in store. A mobile app can serve as a glue connecting all the channels and touch points – which a retailer leverages – into a seamless shopping experience.

Given the significant cost of retail mobile application development and the implications of retailers’ mobile strategies for their business and the industry in general, it is critical to recognize early on all the numerous challenges a retail app is going to face after its launch.

Challenge #1: Being neglected by customers

This challenge is hardly unique to the retail industry. The dedicated shopping categories introduced in both the App Store and Google Play Market combined with app indexing certainly made it much easier for consumers to discover retailers’ apps. Yet, it turns out to be insufficient for widespread adoption. As revealed in a recent fashion retail study, 64% of US consumers have no idea if their favorite fashion retailer has a mobile app. Which is astonishing when you come to think about it. This means that a number of retailers not only fail to communicate the various benefits their apps can bring to the table but actually fail to inform their customers about the very existence of those apps.

However, a download is only part of the deal. It is user engagement that makes a difference in the long run. A retail app needs to compete with a number of other apps for a user’s attention. According to App Annie 2016 Retrospective, a smartphone owner in the US uses well over 30 apps per month on average, with messaging and social apps clearly trumping other categories. Besides, a customer is likely to keep only a few retail apps on their smartphone.

Data source: Forrester

Challenge #2: Failing to meet customer expectations

According to the recent research by Accenture, in the US, 74% of retailers have mobile apps with purchasing capabilities. Yet, only 58% of customers find it convenient to shop using mobile devices. Consumers demand convenience, speed, security, and a personalized user experience. Retail apps that do not meet these requirements are likely to be quickly abandoned or replaced.

Here are the most common shortcomings impeding customer engagement that retailers should better keep in mind when tackling mobile app development:

  1. Intrusive sign-up. Multi-page sign-up forms requiring too much personal information make an unfavorable impression on a user from the very beginning. If on top of that, an app requests numerous in-app permissions, it can raise a user’s suspicion and impair user engagement. A chance to test an app and gauge its value prior to signing up could substantially increase app adoption rate.
  2. Complex and cluttered user interface. Failure to consider mobile display limitations and select key elements and cut the clutter will inevitably compromise UI convenience and ease of navigation. Such apps nudge users into switching to retailers’ websites in the best case scenario. In fact, more than half of consumers reluctant to use retail apps prefer shopping online via retailers’ websites.
  3. Missing functional in-app search feature. Roughly one third of the US consumers surveyed by RichRelevance in 2016 were generally dissatisfied with the search results they received when shopping on mobile devices. Yet, 83% of consumers consider search capabilities important when shopping online.
  4. Lack of consistency. Erratic navigation and lack of consistency in screen layouts, action elements and patterns in a retail app would compromise both convenience and speed. Furthermore, lack of consistency in UI design across all digital channels a retailer employs makes consumers spend more time learning how to navigate an app.
  5. Complex check-out procedure. One of the biggest issues in mCommerce is the high level of cart abandonment. Complicated multi-page check-out process making customer fill out poorly designed forms with payment details each time they make a purchase discourage customers from completing purchases via the app.
  6. Lack of personalization. Customers tend to abandon retail apps which leave little room for a personalized shopping experience. Apps that fail to enable users to create shopping lists, get the most relevant offers and notifications, bookmark items or redeem coupons can hardly reckon on sufficient user engagement.
Most important retail app features
Data source: UPS

Challenge #3: Security Implications

First and foremost, security assurance is key to customer engagement. Security concerns ranked #2 among the mobile shopping roadblocks named by participants of the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper in 2016. 31% of consumers are reluctant to use retailers’ apps for this very reason. Which comes as no surprise given the regular newsflashes about retailers being attacked by cybercriminals.

Reasons for not using retail apps
Data source: UPS

However, the security issue influences not only retail apps adoption – it might prove pivotal to retailer’s business in general. As revealed in the 2016 KPMG Consumer Loss Barometer, 19% of consumers would stop purchasing from a retailer that fell victim of a cyber-attack, even if all the appropriate measures were taken to mitigate the negative effect. 68% would be reluctant to shop at this retailer unless a solid plan to prevent further attacks is rolled out. Thus, failure to ensure mobile app security might seriously damage customer loyalty and cost a retailer a fortune.

Challenge #4: Being disrupted by social media

Social networks have long been considered a powerful marketing communication channel. With such social media giants as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest experimenting with “Buy” buttons and messenger chatbots, consumers get an opportunity to make purchases without leaving their favorite social app.  There are at least 3 reasons why social commerce might evolve into a formidable competitor to retail apps:

  • Firstly, social commerce removes a good portion of friction from the purchasing experience. A person coming across a product they like or learning about an enticing promotion no longer needs to go the seller’s website or install the seller’s app to complete a purchase.
  • Secondly, social media provide abundance of peer recommendations and reviews, which have become an integral part of the shopping experience for most consumers. According to a recent survey by Podium, 93% of consumers acknowledge the impact online reviews have on their purchase decisions.
  • Thirdly, social apps enjoy massive and engaged user bases. According to Statista, in 2016 the average daily social media usage reached 118 minutes globally with three quarters of the online time in social media spent on mobile in the US.

To be sure, at present social commerce can hardly pose a serious threat to retailers’ apps. As revealed in a recent survey by SUMO Heavy, less than 20% of participants have actually made a purchase directly via social media and 77% are concerned with the security issues. Thus, the potential of social commerce is yet to be unleashed. However, full-fledged social commerce might prove to be a major disruptor.

Challenge #5: Need for continuous improvement

With larger screen sizes driving customer satisfaction with the mobile shopping experience, smartphones will keep fueling the retail industry. However, retailers need to keep in mind that a mobile app is not a one-off venture. It needs to constantly evolve and promptly accommodate the latest trends in customer expectations and mobile application development. That is the only way to keep up with the competition, be it another retail app, emerging social commerce or messenger chatbots.

Julia Tuskal

With 7+ years of professional experience in marketing and IT and profound interest in psychology and neuroscience, Julia is keen to research how technology transforms traditional economic and social patterns. Julia’s MBA degree in International Business Management earned from Furtwangen University (Germany) helps her recognize challenges and opportunities a business venture is facing, analyze trends and industry developments, and outline successful marketing strategies. She advocates for sustainable development and co-evolution.

  • Jon Andrews

    It’s really no surprise so many Americans don’t know if retailers have an app. A lot of stores don’t advertise their apps enough or only push discounts and sales via their apps. A 5% discount isn’t enough to motivate most people to download an app that takes up space on their phone. Issue number 3 listed here is also relevant given the number of data breaches you hear about on the news. That’s the number one thing stopping me from using different apps to shop at my favourite stores.

  • Micheline Logan

    So many companies invest in the development of mobile applications with no clear understanding of whether their customers either want or need them. I am sure that you have attended one or more events where you are exhorted to download yet another app to make your experience even more exciting – well, that was the thinking when the app was developed. In truth, you will probably delete it straight after the event, if not before. The rate of app abandonment after 1 use still hovers around 25% in 2017.
    In China, the ability to connect with customers over messenger app Wechat has severely dented the need to develop mobile apps. Other messaging services are trying to take a leaf from Wechat’s book.
    I am not saying that there is not a place for mobile apps in retail, but that you must develop a solid business case before to launch your own app.