According to a survey conducted by DM2PRO and Quattro Wireless in December, 64.8% of marketers and publishers reported planning to invest in mobile apps this year. That’s a lot of apps from retailers, brands and media companies that are going to all be vying for attention on the already overcrowded apps store. Is there really any thing to be gained by having an app?
Well, they certainly seem to have a role to play in getting brands and retailers into the mobile space. However, from talking to many of the retailers that have rolled out apps so far this year, it strikes me that most marketers really see apps as (a) a funky ‘must have’ thing to brag about to their marketer mates in the pub and (b) a cheap way of getting a ‘mobile strategy’ that the board will approve because either they all have iPhones and love it, or simply don’t get it at all.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to distract from the valiant efforts retailers are making in getting apps out there to aid the mobile retailing cause: some of them are awesomely good – Barratts Shoes springs to mind, where you can try on shoes with an outfit then buy them. What strikes me is that, faced with the prospect of having to develop a whole mobile retailing strategy, many companies right now are simply looking at how to make an app. And that may not be the best way to engage their customers.
For starters – and I am not being a snob here – I would wager that not that many people who shop in Barratts have an iPhone. Or Oasis. Or Tescos for that matter. In fact, even though iPhones are lovely and all, most people DON’T have one (yet).
I also think that having an app is not the same as having a mobile retail strategy. Apps are merely access to a device specific website, they are not the internet, per se, and they are not the mobile-web. A fully functional mobile retailing strategy will have all the components of an e-commerce strategy, along with some pretty complex mobile payments agreements.
This is backed up by digital marketing consultancy Econsultancy’s editor Chris Lake: “it’s not just about apps,” he says. “Mobile-optimised websites are a great starting place for any retailer that is keen to generated revenue from this channel.”
But most people aren’t there yet. They see apps in simple terms, that all important entry point into mobile and bridging the gap between wanting a mobile shopping experience now and just repurposing your website for mobile access when everything is just one big internet.
eMarketer analyst Tobi Elkin agrees that caution needs to be excercised around this rish for apps, consumer packaged goods marketers in particular need to be very clear about the value and benefit to consumers of a mobile app, she says.
“Consumer products brands desire closer relationships with their customers and the opportunity to invite them into personal exchanges and immersive experiences,” says Elkin, who has authored a report “Mobile Apps and Consumer Products Brands” for eMarketer. “The right kinds of mobile apps tethered to social media can move consumer products marketers closer to their goals.”
Marketers have to provide something useful or solve a problem that a customer has. In addition, marketers need to probe how an app will tie into their overall digital and mobile marketing and media strategy.
Swedish online book vendor Bokus exemplifies this. The company, which is Sweden’s answer to Amazon in the books, CD, DVD and games market, wanted to go mobile. “We looked closely at optimising our existing website to allow smartphone access, but decided that, since the web platform was old, proprietary technology it would be better to look at apps,” explains Cecillia Nilsson, the company’s head of mobile.
“We also decided that with apps, we could package up what we offered in a more targeted way for the users, playing to what sorts of people have iPhones and what they might want from our bookstore. It also puts us in a good position to look at how to add in e-books when the time is right and how to expand what we do to the iPad,” she says.
The company, which launched its app late last year has so far had 11,000 downloads and has seen sales of books through the app grow month on month at “an extraordinary rate”, says Nilsson.
This week it launched the Android version and hopes for similar growth on the coming months.
But, while there are retailers aplenty all rolling out apps that in some way offer a mobile version of what they do online or even in the real world, the real power of apps lies in comparative shopping, I believe.
Online comparison site shopping.com’s app offers the true mobile experience of letting the shopper use the app to find what they are looking for, while apps such as Vouchercloud offer users vouchers based on where they are going to shop.
Again, these rely on the shopper having an iPhone, but are at least more tailored to the person using the device than the retailer spending money on an app that very few of its core customers may see let alone have access to.
But its not all negative: the iPhone is getting surprisingly popular, most brands with apps are also eyeing other operating systems such as Android and even Symbian (which powers Nokia smartphones) and some even looking at Windows Mobile, so we should see many phones able to access some form of app in the coming 18 months.
With that in mind, it may well be that having an app is a good way to learn the ropes of mobile and the very things that seem to make it a tad prosaic in the internet age – the one button giving access to a single site from a closed platform policed by Apple – could well be what makes them the ideal way not only for vendors to enter the m-retailing space, but could also be what coaxes consumers into doing it too.
As Econsultancy’s Lake suggests: “Mobile offers greater reach, so you can potentially increase your market share. It reminds me of the early days of e-commerce, and I think there will be a similar land grab in the next 18 months as retailers rush to release mobile websites that do the business”.