With all of the smart phones (iPhones, Androids, BlackBerry’s) being used by consumers today it seems you can download an app for just about any conceivable purpose. Many online functions such as stocks, banking, weather, and even ordering flowers, that have been traditionally assigned to computers are now being performed right from an individuals phone. There is no doubt that smart phone usage is increasing at an incredible pace, in 2009 alone, worldwide smartphone sales reached 174 million units!
So as a retailer, is the time right to make the investment and launch an app for your business?
First, keep in mind that if you have a website it will be viewable from a smart phone already, so some of your customers may already be browsing your website from their phone and possibly even placing orders. Unfortunately, most websites are not optimized for a 4″ screen so what might be user friendly on a 21″ computer monitor is not quite so easy to navigate on a smart phone. Yes, you can optimize your website for viewing on a smartphone, but even doing that is not the ideal solution. The real strength and advantage of a custom written smart phone app it is designed from the ground up specifically for ease of use on a particular device.
However, before jumping into the pool and rushing out to launch your own app, there are a lot of pros and cons to be considered, here are a few based on our own experience…..
Customer Loyalty – In theory if you can convince a consumer to select your app over others offered, actually download it, and most important keep it on their phone the chances are extremely good that you will be their retailer of choice for future purchases. Let’s face it, once they have it on their phone it can be a very convenient way to order or access product information when they don’t have access to a computer.
Leader of the Pack – A smart phone app tends to be a major investment for a typical retail shop (or at least until someone designs a mass market affordable version) so it’s probably a safe bet that having one will set you apart from your competition in the eyes of some of your customers. In simple terms it’s trendy, particularly for the younger “Smart Phone Generation”. √
Instant Communication – Smart phone apps allow you to send instant “Push” messages right to users of your app. In simple terms a push message is like a text message and generally pops up right on their screen, potentially a great way to notify them of promotions, reminders, etc. As well, an app will allow more subtle communication in the form of “pull” messages, ones that only pop up when the user actually opens the app.
Initial and Ongoing Cost– This is the big one as it can be fairly substantial, typically running into thousands of dollars with no guarantee of generating “additional” business or seeing a return on investment in a reasonable length of time.
Marketing -Be prepared to spend time and money!
While your website can be found by anyone using a search engine the same cannot be said of a phone app. It will fall entirely upon you to get the word out and generate interest. You cannot rely on anyone stumbling across your app on say the iTunes app store. Here’s an eye opener…last count pegged the available apps for the iPhone at close to 300,000! Talk about a needle in a haystack.
Distribution– Getting your app on to a consumer’s phone is a challenge, trust me on this one. First you have to let them know about it, secondly they must see some value in it, and lastly they have to invest the time to find and download it. The process requires a little effort initially on the part of the user.
OS Incompatibility – An app written for the operating system (OS) of an iPhone will not work on an Android or Blackberry smart phone, and vice versa. Each smart phone OS requires its own app.
Ongoing Commitment – Keeping an apps’ offers and products current takes time. Launching a smart phone app is probably not a great idea if you currently have a website and find you simply cannot invest the time required into maintaining and marketing it properly.
Score so far, Pro’s 3, Con’s 5. So what’s the verdict?
Let’s look at a case in point, one close to home. In October of 2010 we launched our own iPhone app with high hopes and our fingers crossed. It is now five months later and where are we at?
In a nutshell, it has not grown our call center business as much as initially hoped and the lion’s share of our growth continues to be seen from our website. If I were to evaluate our iPhone app’s performance to date strictly from the point of revenue generated I would honestly have to say it’s a very poor investment in the short term. However, I suspect that in the longer term it may prove to be very similar to doing online business in the sense that in the infancy of the internet many retailers jumped in early and invested a lot with little return initially. Yet in today’s world having a website is as critical to many businesses as having a phone number. It simply took the consumer a bit of time to become comfortable with purchasing online. So on this one my fingers are still crossed.
If, after reading the above, you decide that you want to take the plunge, here are two suggestions that will help you develop or purchase a smartphone app that the consumer will see value in and choose over completing apps.
1) Give it away!
If you visit the iTunes app store there are now dozens of applications available to purchase products. Some of them are free, but many cost $0.99 – $2.99 to download. Trying to recoup the development cost of a retail app through selling it is a mistake; the goal must be to get your app widely distributed. As a retailer you are in the business of selling your product, not selling smartphone apps. As the number of users of your app grow so will your sales revenue.
2) Content, Content, Content!
Remember, regardless of the retail field you are in the competition for customers is almost certainly fierce, so you need an edge, a reason for a smart phone user to choose your app over you competitors.
The answer is simple, CONTENT!
Basing your app around content and providing information about the product you sell will provide users of your product one more reason on to download your app. Another case in point, our own iPhone app features over 300 pages of flower information and trivia with content updates on a regular basis. Again, the initial goal is to get your app onto a user’s phone. In the longer term they must have a reason to use your app on a regular basis, or they will delete it or simply forget they have it. So in this case, just like a website Content is King!