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GUEST COMMENT How retailers can use apps to win back the high street

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Survival of the mobile

Yet again, high street retailers are struggling under the weight of numerous reports of their sales dropping last year. Among many others in the industry, I feel a sense of déjà vu upon reading this latest set of ominous reports predicting the downfall of the UK high street. The main culprit in the eyes of many? The rise of digital, specifically mobile.

While those who work in the mobile space may be guilty of living in a digital bubble where mobile’s rise is well accepted, surely the wider business community now also realise there is no such thing as a mobile business or a non-mobile business? It’s not that a consumer-facing retail business can’t exist in principle without mobile, it simply can’t survive.

Reading the signs

The signs were there several years ago, as mobile started to penetrate both market share of consumers’ attention and a share of customers’ wallets. Today, the competition has superseded mobile vs desktop and reached a new level of competition: mobile apps vs mobile web. We now spend approximately three hours a day on average in apps, and seven times more time in native apps than in traditional mobile browsers. By the time retailers caught up to this shift, the retailers focusing on mobile apps were light years ahead.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the recent earnings reports for retailers reflect whether the brand in question has an app strategy or not. Asos is one of the few retailers with reason to celebrate the new year, sharing a 23 per cent year-on-year increase in what the company described as a “challenging” market. In the same period the previous year, UK revenues had risen 18 per cent. It’s no coincidence that Asos is the third most used digital-first retail app in the UK last year.

Growing the pie

Developing an app strategy is not just a smart way to retain your piece of the retail market pie, it makes the pie bigger. The potential revenue to be gained in the app economy is now huge. In 2017, consumer spend in the app stores exceeded some 86 billion USD – an increase of over 105% from 2015. By 2021, total spend in mcommerce, in-app advertising and app store is forecast to reach 6.3 trillion USD.

It is baffling that certain retailers continue to overlook the growth opportunity created by consumers shifting to mobile. There is already a proven appetite. In the UK, 2017 saw an 80% increase in total sessions in retail apps, and there was 100 million hours spent in shopping apps on Android phones and tablets in the US during the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Nurturing relationships

The storefront was once the primary touchpoint between a brand and their customers. However, since the boom of e-commerce, mobile has become the first point of contact. Not only does mobile now present the best opportunity to reach your audience, it’s the chance to create a truly personalised experience for your customers and nurture your relationship with them. Apps are far more than just another platform; they’re an opportunity to improve your relationship with customers and, ultimately, your bottom line. Retailers can discover a plethora of personal preferences from their customers through the time they spend in their apps – from their preferred store locations and their wish lists to their favourite time to browse and more.

The most successful retailers have recognised that mobile isn’t a subset of digital, it’s the glue that brings together the digital and store experience. Use of in-store beacons, apps that provide product data and product locators drive customer engagement and loyalty. It’s worth considering that orders placed in-app and collected in-store represent increased margins in a tight market.

A window into a consumer’s life

Apps can provide a window into a consumer’s life. With their approval, you can use data to make the customer’s experience slick and powerful. Apps can become the bridge between the offline and online worlds and encourage users in-store with something that is of most value to them. It’s a win, win.

With such a rich platform to embrace, the fight for retailers to win the high street is not over; in fact, it’s only just begun. Competition has never been more fierce, but for those that ensure mobile apps are central to their 2018 strategy to drive value both online and offline, the potential to accelerate business is phenomenal. Be warned though. If app strategy continues to be an afterthought in your sales strategy, then your brand will remain just that in the minds of tech-savvy UK shoppers.

Author: Paul Barnes, territory director northern Europe and the Middle East, App Annie

Image credit: Fotolia

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