When IBM reported that more than 16 percent of online sales began on mobile devices during the last quarter of 2013, apps started becoming much more interesting to small business owners. Smartphone and tablet usage continues to grow steadily across all demographics, but not every business needs to create their own app to capitalize on this growing trend.
With 1.2 million apps currently available in the Apple store, and a similar number available for Android devices, it can be overwhelming for business owners to identify what apps will help them build their business. Cyriac Roeding, CEO of Shopkick, a location-based mobile app used by retailers to offer customers coupons as they walk in the door, recommends choosing an app that “can truly drive key business metrics: traffic, sales, loyalty, new customers, brand engagement, whatever the metrics are.” Before adding an app to your marketing mix, record what your traffic and sales numbers look like currently. This will make it easier to judge the effectiveness of any app you choose to use.
Choose between proprietary and shared apps
Business owners have two options when it comes to apps: create a proprietary app developed and built specifically for your business, or pay to use an app developed by a third-party provider. Carter Thomas, of BlueCloud Solutions, which has created and launched over 900 apps, estimates that it costs at least $2,000 to develop a proprietary app—and far more if you want to include functions such as in-app purchasing or social media sharing.
Of course, having your own app can be great for your most loyal customers, Roeding says. But he also cautions that “It’s important though not to play alone in a ‘walled garden’ only with your own proprietary app, because consumers are not going to download 40 different apps for 40 different stores, or 10 apps for 10 banks.” Knowing your customers’ shopping habits is key. If they’re already using one or more retail-based apps, such as Shopkick or Groupon to guide their shopping excursions, establishing a presence in those established environments may be a smarter move than attempting to go it alone.
Driving sales using apps
There are a number of ways retailers can use apps to drive sales, including offering rewards, demonstrating merchandise, and prompting impulse purchases.
Shopping becomes its own reward with apps like Shopkick, which offers consumers reward points just for walking into the store with the app, or scanning barcodes of products. “Studies have proven time and time again that getting the product in a shopper’s hand is half the battle of the sale,” Roeding says.
Apps like The Vow, which bills itself as the “Dream Engagement Ring Finder,” allows users to virtually try on existing designer engagement rings and even create their own custom looks from their smartphone. This type of app is great news for the retailer who can order, but not necessarily keep in stock, a wide variety of merchandise. Apparel and eyewear retailers, such as Hugo Boss and ZenniOptical, are also using apps of this type.
So-called “flash sales” during which retailers offer a discount on one or more items for a limited amount of time, are proving to be extremely popular with shoppers. There are a number of apps designed for the growing legions of flash sale fans: Rue La La, ideelia, and My Habit are just a few of the apps that help retailers connect with shoppers.
And it’s not just consumer facing businesses that can benefit from apps. There are apps that can help B2B business owners sell more, too. Profit Story is great for small business owners that are trying to get retailers to carry their merchandise. You enter quantity and wholesale prices , along with the price your retailer can ask, and instantly you have the gross profit margin, markup, and break-even analysis at your fingertips. Having these numbers readily available makes it easier for your potential customer to understand how profitable your product could be for them—critical information that could very well help you seal the deal.
A win for the business owner and customer
The best apps deliver value to the customer and drive sales for the business owner. “If there is no true value to the consumer, there is no incentive for them to continue to interact with the app,” Roeding explains. “As most marketers can attest, there are dozens of stories of amazing marketing opportunities that never took off because they didn’t create real value for the consumer. The same is true for the business value. Just because consumers love an app doesn’t mean it will help drive sales at your company.”