The business of retail apps is booming.
In 2015 alone, app sales increased to $59.86 billion from $35.48 billion in 2014, an increase of 68.7 percent, according to a new study. And 303 of the world’s top 500 retailers now have an app.
The study, conducted by ARC from Applause, a research group that analyzes the apps economy, looked at 50 of those top retailers that received approximately half of their total sales through mobile apps. In 2015 alone, 50 those retailers generated $29.46 billion in mobile app sales, or approximately half of all mobile sales.
But what separates a good retail app from a bad one? And why are some retailers making more money off mobile apps than others?
ARC’s study analyzed 1.2 million online app reviews from the App Store and Google Play to find out exactly, in customer’s own words, what it takes to “win” with a mobile retail app.
“Done right, mobile apps enhance customer journeys,” according to ARC’s study. “Take, for example, online eCommerce pioneers, like Groupon or LivingSocial. While each company has dealt with its degree of troubles after the daily deals market fell apart, the companies’ mobile apps were not to blame. Whether exploring a new city or just looking to get out of the house, both empowered customers by giving them control over their experiences on their mobile devices to discover food, fun, fashion, wellness and professional services.”
ARC was only able to analyze 43 of the 50 retailer apps on its list, as several didn’t generate the more than 150-plus reviews needed to be able to extrapolate the data.
The 43 retailers still on the list were weighed on the average of their Android and iOS mobile app reviews through a tool that “continuously crawls” the app store ratings, then compares reviews on a 100-point scale.
Interestingly enough, when the tool was used to crawl the more than 30 million apps available for review, the average score was found to be 67.3. But the retailer apps with the most sales actually averaged a lower user approval rating than the average, coming in at 52.3 points.
ARC did note, however, that that user satisfaction number was still higher than when it studied the 95 most popular retail apps last year and came out with a user approval rating of 43.
Groupon topped all retailer apps on the list coming in at 83.0 after ARC trawled about 372,000 combined Android and iOS reviews.
Six other popular retailer apps also scored above the average score of 67.3: REI at 79.0 after 5,000 combined reviews; Rue La La at 77.6 after 9,000 combined reviews; Gilt at 75.9 after 10,000 combined reviews; JackThreads at 75.8 after 19,000 combined reviews; Overstock.com at 69.3 after 7,000 combined reviews; and LivingSocial at 67.5 after 40,000 combined reviews.
On the lowest end of the scale were Sainsbury’s at 12.1, Toys“R”Us at 13.4, Disney Store at 15.0, Gap at 23.5 and 1Sale at 26.7. But all those apps had barely 1,000 customer reviews (or sometimes even less).
“No matter the company’s industry, geography or reputation, app users are vocal about their experiences,” according to ARC’s study. “It’s time for retailers to embrace digital-first strategies that raise the bar for quality to ultimately deliver richer customer experiences that accelerate growth.”
The study also found that 11 retailer apps on the list had large “sentiment swings” between user approval of their retailer apps compared to the previous year’s study. Eleven retailers on the list experiencing swings of five points or more compared to the previous year, while six experienced sentiment swings of 10 points or more.
“Your standing in the retails apps economy isn’t just impacted by your own operation decisions. It’s impacted by competitive and market insight,” according to ARC’s study. “If a competing retailer’s app gets better and resets the industry benchmark, your app looks poorer in comparison.”
Of the retailer apps that saw the greatest sentiment swings, Spartoo, a French fashion retailer, experienced a 26.3-point positive swing after introducing a feature that allowed users to use a widget that let them access the latest in fashionable shoes. Carfax experienced a 24.8-point positive swing after launching an updated Android app in Dec. 2015 that has received four- or five-star reviews 84 percent of the time since launch.
Peapod experienced the lowest drop, 11.5 points, which the study chalked up to too many users complaining of “freezes, slow performance, blank screens, error messages, disruptive ads, limited payment support options” and updates that “seemingly weren’t tested prior to release.”