Mobile Apps: Are They a Must for Retailers?

Just how prevalent, and important, are mobile applications for commerce today?

According to Mobithinking.com, there are over 225,000 applications and counting. Apple counts about 5 billion app downloads, with each application being downloaded at least 22,222 times where every app generates about US $4,444.44 revenue.  An average iPhone user has 37 apps on an iPhone and the total application downloads off just the Apple App Store comes close to 12 million downloads.

That’s how big the application development scene is, and this is just the United States, let alone the rest of the world.

In a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, on behalf of Apigee – a leading provider of API technology – at least 54% of mobile app users opined that it could cost them a wasted trip to retail store just because retailers don’t have a mobile application developed that could apprise customers of prices, product availability and other such information that customers could easily avail, if there was an application.

At least 50% of mobile users browse for information on stores, deals available, and price comparisons. Over 19% of these users think that retailers are old-fashioned if they don’t have an app developed while 25% fear that they could lose out on deals just because information wasn’t made available to them.

Are applications really that critical?

While the usefulness of the app is determined by the actual value it delivers to a user, for retailers it’s a no-brainer to have an app for their store. Apart from the only trouble with apps – which stems from the fact that they have to be downloaded– an app really does a lot for a retailer. It could help provide store information, product reviews, product updates, digitize loyalty programs, and take customer engagement to a whole new level.

“For a business, a mobile app can and should serve as a catch all for all your online and offline marketing endeavors.  Ways of doing this can include use of all online social media, QR codes programs and direct messaging using push notifications”, says Jimmy CL Newson of mobilemarketingapps.com — who is also the co-organizer for the Infusion CRM and Mobile Marketing Apps NYC Event along with Smallbiztechnology.com editor, Ramon Ray–  when asked how businesses, especially retailers, can use apps.

Mobile Application Vs Mobile Website: What goes?

A mobile version of the website is a responsive, rendered-for-mobile version of a retailer’s site. Technically, it does everything the desktop/laptop version of the actual e-commerce site of the retailer should do – provide information, allow for product sales, and much more.

So should retailers have mobile versions of their websites or build an app? Given the popularity of the apps, we’d say both. A website – mobile or not – still has to be visited. It’s utility starts with customers taking initiative to visit the site. An application is far more easier to open up and access information than what a mobile version of a website.  From a business point of view, though, either one of the options (or preferably both) won’t hurt. In fact, it bodes well for the retailers.

According to Jimmy again, “Unlike a traditional website, a mobile app provides direct communication to engage your customers, a unique experience with optimized media rich content and better overall customer service for your customers to communicate with you.  With a mobile app, you are connected to your customer 24/7.” 

With the mobile apps, retailers have a new way to engage, connect, and to serve customers. Developing mobile applications is not too hard for retailers today, irrespective of the size of the retailing coming.

This begs the question: If “there’s an app for that”, why should retailers be left in the lurch?

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Ashwin Satyanarayana is a content strategist and a technology aficionado who blogs at Groovywebtools. He is also a freelance blogger, Social media consultant, and an entrepreneur. He owns an Internet Marketing company called Fetchprofits .When he isn't writing, which is rarely the case, he is traveling the world.

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