The volume of Brits using retail mobile apps has been increasing for a number of years, and the pressure is mounting for retailers to meet their rising expectations. Because of this, we have undertaken research to delve into what consumers really want from this channel to help retail companies get it right. Here, I will talk about the research and give advice to retailers on what they need to be doing to improve their apps, in order to boost engagement and sales on this platform.

It’s important for retailers to invest in a quality mobile app and keep it updated, in order to meet the evolving expectations of consumers. In fact, as it’s estimated that spend will hit £53.6bn a year on smartphones and tablets by 2024 (compared with £9.7bn last year), retailers should be offering a high-quality app experience to attract and retain custom.

However, despite our research revealing that retail mobile apps are incredibly popular with consumers – a sizeable 85 per cent of smartphone users currently engage with them - we also discovered that a staggering 71 per cent think there is a gap in the market for better apps.

Where are retail apps going wrong?

There are a number of issues that crop up with retail apps that can make them fall short of the mark with consumers. Whether it’s a lack of targeted marketing messages, functionality issues or the services that consumers want not being made available to them on this platform, our research uncovered a number of areas that retailers need to work on.

When shoppers were asked how they thought retail apps could be improved, 34 per cent of consumers said they feel that they don’t provide enough offers or a loyalty scheme. This was despite almost half (45%) stating that their favourite function of a retail mobile app was a loyalty scheme.

Reward schemes have always proved popular with consumers because they like to be appreciated for their loyalty. While retail loyalty card schemes are still a hit, retailers now need to consider integrating existing loyalty schemes across all platforms available because more and more shoppers are moving online.

The research highlighted that a massive 80 per cent of shoppers would be happy to collect loyalty points on their phone, with 47% going so far to say they would prefer to collect loyalty points on a mobile app, rather than a card. Also, 63% said they would be more likely to take their phone with them when they go shopping over a loyalty card, highlighting the convenience of mobile loyalty schemes, and that the demand is there.

Another issue consumers have with retail apps is that they tend to send too many marketing messages and alerts to them. A sizeable 40 per cent of consumers stated they would delete an app if they received too many promotional messages that weren’t properly targeted to their shopping habits, and over a fifth (21%) of consumers said they don’t download retail apps due to this concern already. With this in mind, it’s important that retailers have a successful mobile marketing strategy in place.

Customers are happy to be sent marketing messages and promotions but only if they are targeted to their individual shopping needs and habits. In fact, a sizeable 67 per cent of consumers would actually welcome personalised messages from an app, and 38 per cent of consumers said they would be happy for a mobile app to recommend similar products to what they have already bought. As such, it’s crucial that retailers do their research and get marketing messages and offers right for each customer.

So what should retailers do now?

There are a number of ways that mobile apps could be improved in order to provide consumers with the experience they want. And the above points can be fixed by retailers fairly easily.

Retail companies who want to get ahead of their competition should invest in a mobile loyalty scheme. If a retailer already has a loyalty card scheme set up, it makes sense to make it available on its other channels. Currently, only a fifth of shoppers are collecting points or interacting with a loyalty scheme on their smartphone, but the demand is clearly there, and it’s a great tool to use to increase customer loyalty and spending. What’s more, with the introduction of new technology, such as location-based messaging, retailers have huge opportunities to interact with their loyal customers in a much more engaging and interactive way.

Another benefit of investing in a mobile loyalty scheme is that it can provide unparalleled levels of data about customers’ shopping habits. This valuable data can then help retailers to build up a proper picture of their customers in order to target them effectively.

In the past it has been difficult to capture data on customers that shop across different channels, whether that be instore or online. But mobile app technology has helped to connect the dots and provide greater insights about the customer.

Collecting the right mobile app data will help to ensure that an app stays useful and guide retailers with their marketing strategies. By using the data captured, retailers can segment audiences by demographic, whether that be gender or age, as well as their shopping preferences and use this information to target them more effectively.

However, despite being armed with this knowledge, retailers need to guard against bombarding customers with too many messages, as the research shows this will cause them to switch off. So it’s important to test and monitor how often these messages are sent in order to maximise conversions. While it might be tempting to send regular targeted messages because people tend to have their smartphones with them most of the time, this can soon get annoying, so it’s important to get the balance right.

By investing in a mobile app that caters to the needs of the customer, retailers will really see the benefit. Not only will more consumers engage with the app on a more regular basis, it is likely to drive more sales and improve ROI. And as the majority of consumers feel that there is a gap in the market for retail apps to be improved, now is a good time for retailers to review their current offering.

By Nick Black, CEO of Apadmi