6 Keys to Creating a Branded App Your Customers Will Actually Use

As mobile commerce continues to make gains, retailers and brands are racing to develop branded apps in an attempt to drive loyalty and sales through this emerging channel.

Branded apps are valuable tools because they allow retailers and other businesses to create relationships with customers that simply cannot be accomplished on a mobile site given apps’ unique ability to personalize offerings. On top of this, they’re able to capture valuable information about customers that helps drive digital marketing and promotions efforts moving forward.

However, the challenge facing brands and retailers in this endeavor is the proliferation of commerce apps competing for the same limited real estate on consumers’ mobile devices. Sparse data storage makes it difficult for consumers to house many mobile apps, and many brands struggle to create apps that consumers want to download and use regularly.

One in every four apps downloaded goes unused, and consumers really only use five apps regularly. What’s more, only 21 percent of retail executives said they are more confident now than they were a year ago about their company’s ability to deliver omnichannel services.

So what is it going to take for retailers and brands to engage consumers with a mobile app and successfully implement omnichannel strategies? They must listen to their customers and strive to exceed expectations. More specifically, brands and retailers striving to create successful mobile apps must do the following six things:

Incentivize consumers to download. Without an obvious incentive, the adoption curve for a retailer's app will be low. Anything from rewards or discounts to free shipping or simply the ability to skip the line in store will motivate consumers to initially download a retailer’s app. Starbucks is a great example of this. The coffee chain understood that long lines in the mornings frustrated regular customers, so it provided its app users with the ability to order ahead of time and skip the line.

Differentiate the app from their mobile site. Once a consumer downloads a retailer’s app, it’s important that he or she is motivated to continue using it. However, users will not engage with a retailer’s app regularly if they can complete the same tasks using their phone’s web browser. Retail apps must offer unique features that users cannot get elsewhere. For example, a furniture retailer could create an app that allows users to upload images of rooms in their home and visualize what different pieces of furniture would look like. Or a hotel booking app could offer exclusive deals and discounts for consumers that use the app to book or check in.

Allow users to customize the app. Give users the power to customize their home screen, layout, product categories, or favorites. Allow them to go as far as deleting sections of the app that are not of use to them. Consumers will not use an app that they find clunky or hard to use given their smartphone habits. Offering the ability to customize actually benefits the retailer or business as well because it can offer insight into user preferences. Data about the way most users are customizing the app can guide developers in creating newer versions of the app that are more user-friendly.

Use geolocation technology with caution. Geolocation technology certainly has its benefits. A retailer can use it to occasionally notify users of relevant deals at nearby brick-and-mortar stores, or an airline could offer flight gate location updates in real time. That said, it’s important for retailers and brands to be wary of overusing location-based notifications. Some users might find it invasive or annoying to be constantly notified of nearby deals. And not all consumers know how to turn off notifications through their settings options. The worst thing a retailer or business can do is drive users to delete the app out of frustration.

Enable cross-functional capabilities. There are some apps that make a lot of sense if they’re compatible with other regularly used products. By incorporating functionalities within an app that are transferable between devices and lifestyle products, users have more reasons to use the app throughout their day. Fitbit does this very well; the Fitbit device syncs with the Fitbit app and allows for users to analyze their personal data within the app and track progress. Having this ability creates a unique function that corresponds to daily habits and can help make it more integrated within a user’s regular routine.

Focus on points of interaction, not single transactions. Design your apps so they can be distributed across relevant “points of x,” like Spotify, which transcends environments like the living room and the car and is delivered through various branded partnerships. The glut of single-use apps will disappear, according to Fjord’s 2016 report, as they become “atomized” across platforms and third-party services.

In an increasingly mobile-driven world, it’s more important than ever for brands and retailers to engage with consumers through this channel. And a branded app is a great way to capture consumer information and drive long-term loyalty. However, smartphone real estate is hard to come by as consumers are inundated with new apps each and every day. To successfully engage with consumers on a branded app, retailers must offer unique incentives for downloading and using the app and go above and beyond expectations.

Bob Barr is managing director and global B2B commerce lead for Accenture Interactive.

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