Does Your Ecommerce Store Need A Shopping App?

We were struck recently by an article pointing out that mobile sales now represent the majority of total ecommerce sales for retailers with successful shopping apps. Since this data confirms a tipping point in shopping behavior (as of Q4 2017), it’s pretty huge! However, the “...with successful shopping apps” part throws a wrench in our ability to universalize any takeaways for a typical ecommerce merchant. Let’s zoom in on that part and break down what it means for your ecommerce store.

Apps Versus Mobile Browsing

According to the report, ⅔ of online sales come from a mobile device when the ecommerce store has a shopping app. And of that ⅔, most people opt for the shopping app over the mobile browsing experience. That’s all well and good, but...why?

⅔ of online sales come from a mobile device when the ecommerce store has a shopping app.

To answer that, let’s back up for a second and think about what an app actually is. The word “app” is short for “application,” as in “software application.” So in a lot of ways, even though apps are considered cutting-edge, they’re actually closely related to the earliest forms of software we have. It’s just that today, you go to an app store to download your app, versus the proto-internet era when you’d pop a CD-ROM into your desktop drive and wait a million years for Oregon Trail to install.

Oregon Trail is actually a pretty good way to simplify this, which is convenient because I used to love that game. (Not to brag or anything, but I’ve died of dysentery at least a thousand times.) Think about playing that game on your desktop, and then think about how the experience might have changed if you had to play it in a browser. On your desktop, the game existed in its own robust, self-contained world. It followed a predictable pattern, the speed stayed consistent, and it didn’t rely on an internet connection to work (which happened to be great if you were worried about tying up the phone lines with your dial-up internet).

If the game had been browser-based, the entire experience would have been less predictable and more frustrating, replete with slow load times, server interruptions, and periodic crashes. It likely would have been less robust too, since the website’s attention would have been split between the software programming and an array of UX/marketing considerations that don’t exist in an app. Further, in a browser you’d have to log in to access personalized details like high scores.

Where we are with mobile today isn’t entirely different from where we were with desktops yesterday.

We’ve come a long way since then, but where we are with mobile today isn’t entirely different from where we were with desktops yesterday. Since mobile shoppers often use spotty wifi or their phone service provider’s signal to access the internet, mobile load times can be slow and unreliable. That means apps, with their self-contained programming and their single-purpose focus, can provide a more streamlined, fast, and predictable way to accomplish a task. They may or may not rely on an internet connection to work, but it’s very common for the ones that do need one to have some kind of offline browsing experience that can smooth over slow load times and interruptions.

Shopping Apps and Conversion Rates

In light of this more reliable experience, it’s not unsurprising that of the stores that provide shopping apps, the conversion rates are higher for the app than for mobile browsing. But does that mean it’s fair to say shopping apps are a better experience than mobile websites? Not necessarily. Think about the shopping apps you use, if any. They’re probably all from your favorite (or most commonly needed) stores, right? So a major contributor to the higher conversion rate on shopping apps is that the people who use them are more ready to convert in the first place.

The singular-focus nature of apps often attracts a different user intent from the more “window shopping” or comparative nature of a web browser.

Additionally, the singular-focus nature of apps often attracts a different user intent from the more “window shopping” or comparative nature of a web browser. If a mobile user is browsing your ecommerce store online, they might still be considering their options, and a price check or comparative search is just a new tab away. By the time they’ve downloaded your app, they’re committed.

So Does Your Ecommerce Store Need a Shopping App or Not?

Alright, so now that we’ve determined what an app is and how it can improve conversions, let’s think about whether your ecommerce store needs one. If I had to generalize for the average small/medium-sized ecommerce business, I’d say most ecommerce stores don’t need one. However, if you can answer “Yes” to more than a couple of the following questions, then you’re probably a great candidate for a shopping app:

Do You Have The Budget/Resources for a Fully Developed App?

First things first: apps are expensive. They take specialized developers and require hundreds of hours of work. It’s also not a “one and done” project; you’ll need a dedicated person or team who can monitor bugs and build ongoing updates that provide a good user experience and follow market trends.

Are You a High-Revenue Shop?

There are people who hunt down the funding to build an app without having revenue-driven proof of viability, but those people aren’t running ecommerce stores. A consistent history of high revenue is a critical way to minimize the risk of developing an app that nobody wants.

Does Your Target Demographic Skew Young?

Although younger people are more familiar with mobile technology and use it more often than the older crowd, this question comes with a huge caveat. According to Google, the average age of various types of app users ranges from 34 to 40. The most active group of app users is between 25 and 35, but the mean average is higher, which tells us something: the are a lot of older app users pulling the average up. So if your demographic falls into that extra mobile-active age range, it may be an extra incentive to provide a shopping app; but if your demographic skews older, you don’t get to rule apps out yet.

Do You Have a High Mobile Conversion Rate?

If yes, your users are primed for embracing an app. If no, channel your resources into boosting the mobile website experience first. If you already have a great mobile experience and the conversion rates still aren’t there, your audience might just be more desktop-friendly.

Do You Have a Healthy Base of Email Subscribers and an Engaged Social Media Following?

Ultimately, the people who download shopping apps are the people who are loyal to the brand. You can use your email subscriber base and social media following not just as your brand loyalty litmus test, but also a way to market the app to a conversion-ready audience.

Does Your Brand Rely Heavily on Being Cutting-Edge or Personalized?

Apps can be a huge benefit to companies with certain brand identities. With their geotargeting, push notifications, and their ability to store and use data in a personalized way, apps are an especially great fit for brands that lean on personalization as a differentiator. Something else to consider: do your competitors have shopping apps?

Would Your Shopping App Provide Benefits to the User That Can’t Be Accomplished In a Mobile Browser?

The most successful shopping apps are the ones that enhance the mobile shopping experience by leveraging your phone’s native functionality. For example, apps can work with a user’s camera to show them what a product would look like in their room; they can send push notifications about deals and promotions; they can provide a faster experience; or they can provide location-based suggestions.

Would Your Shopping App Provide a Significantly Different Experience From Your Mobile Site?

Finally, that last point takes us to a crucial consideration: customer journey. Would the customer take a different path on your app versus your mobile site? If you’re just replicating your mobile site in app form, what’s the point?

So, how’d you do? If you’re shopping app-ready, congrats! If not, read up on providing the best mobile experience you can and get to work. You’ll be ruling the mobile world in no time.

Have any questions about shopping apps? Let us know in the comments!