In 2014, experts were already asking whether the mobile app market was oversaturated. By 2016, they were declaring it dead – or, at least, they were certain the app boom was over. Yet here we are in 2018, and mobile apps are not only still a thing, they’re still being downloaded in significant numbers. Indeed, some reports say people are downloading even more apps than before.
But the really important question is this: Are people using those apps after downloading them? In other words, are they sustainable, or will challenges like high food delivery fees and low ridesharing costs ultimately drive them out of business?
John O'Brien, SVP, strategic solutions, global enterprise eCommerce, Worldpay, said the average person uses 30 apps per month.
Those that wish to maintain their place on users’ phone screens will need to offer more than convenience, he said; they must offer multiple services, a stellar user experience and, of course, be able to accept payments (a capability that he said only eight of those 30 monthly apps are offering today).
In a recent discussion with Karen Webster, O’Brien outlined the priorities that merchants should be setting when it comes to mobile if they hope to be among next month’s 30 apps.
This is where great apps begin, said O’Brien – though they can also die here if merchants fail to take them to the next level. A strong user experience is merely the foundation on which other functionalities can be built, he said.
Convenience is costly, but consumers have shown they’re more than willing to cough up the extra dough if it means less time and effort – just look at companies like Uber and delivery aggregator apps. O’Brien said that tendency is at least partially due to the millennial generation working such long hours. When they leave the office, the only thing they want for dinner is convenience.
However, the convenience of these models may or may not prove to be ample insurance against the challenges they face. Uber started out as a black car service. Now, its most popular offerings are the cheaper alternatives.
Meanwhile, delivery aggregators are battling high fees, and O’Brien said there’s no guarantee that millennials or anyone else will continue using them once they realize they’re spending $35 a week on delivery fees.
On the other hand, consider Amazon: a clear standout in the user interface category. Because of that interface, said O’Brien, Amazon becomes a launchpad into any other industry – and it arrives there with trust, as people are already comfortable with the brand and security offered by the company.
Finally, merchants and developers would do well to note that a user experience may excel in one region or with one demographic but flop in another. For instance, millennials hold mobile apps to a higher standard and want technology to provide a better experience.
Or, as another example, take developed and developing markets. O’Brien said emerging markets often see high adoption rates because they’re building a mobile-first experience.
However, in more developed markets like the U.S. and U.K., which cut their teeth on desktop experiences and still often default to that mode of shopping, “good enough” isn’t good enough – if customers don’t need an app, then retailers must go above and beyond to show them why they want it.
Security concerns are the number one reason for cart abandonment. In a recent survey by Worldpay, O’Brien said the company found that a quarter of respondents had lost purchases due to not offering the customer’s preferred payment method – which boils down to customers not feeling that the options they’re given will provide the level of security they want.
Many customers have learned to look for signposts that a desktop web page is secure, from checking for the little green padlock icon in the URL bar to seeing what forms of payment are accepted and who processes them.
These signposts, however, may not be as clear on a mobile browser, said O’Brien. Customers may also be asked to fill out a registration form or even to complete a guest checkout. Such forms are a deterrent even on a desktop, but the friction they can introduce on mobile makes it all too easy for users to walk away from a shopping cart and search for those products elsewhere.
O’Brien said mobile apps have a slight advantage, because users learn up-front whether their preferred method of payment is available through the app, addressing any concerns they may have from square one. As customers proceed through an app, he said, the merchant should require the absolute minimum amount of information while still providing a secure experience.
Many merchants are investing significantly in augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR). O’Brien said this may be to their detriment – no matter how much the experience may wow an audience – if they’re doing so at the expense of tactical investments to drive customer experience.
Everyone can name a cool AR or VR experience they either have had themselves or read about somewhere. For instance, Ant Financial and Macy’s had a VR experience that enabled shoppers to browse its Fifth Avenue store and actually buy things using their Alipay wallet. But such an experience may contribute more to marketing buzz than to the bottom line, said O’Brien.
That’s not to say that AR and VR are bad investments, he added – just that balance is needed, and the latest and greatest of flashy tech may not generate the staying power of an experience that really matters and keeps consumers coming back to buy again.
Retailers are big on creating the most personalized shopping experience possible. Whether customers are purchasing on desktop browsers, mobile browsers or in-app, the choices being presented to them are based on their past activity. Nowhere is this more true than in subscription commerce, where personal preference data is getting refreshed on a regular basis.
However, precision targeting may not always be the best way to go. It denies the shopper any kind of discovery or serendipity experience. The more specific a merchant gets with recommendations, the more it filters out on behalf of the user, who may ultimately have been interested in one of the products they missed.
It’s like flipping through a print newspaper versus reading the same content online: On a website, readers can just pull up the article they want to read and skip the rest, but in a newspaper they must flip through past articles they didn’t expect to be interested in – which sometimes may turn out to be the most interesting of all.
Once again, O’Brien concluded, a balance is needed so customers are mostly seeing things they want and mostly not seeing things they don’t want – with a few opportunities for serendipity thrown in.