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The Rise of Mobile Shopping Apps

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Mobile shopping apps have in the midst of the pandemic become central to online retail operations, and they're clearly here to stay. In fact, by 2021 mobile e-commerce, or m-commerce, sales are expected to account for 54 percent of all retail ecommerce sales.

The E-Commerce Times spoke with m-commerce specialists to find out what's behind the rapid growth of consumers shopping on mobile devices, what mobile shoppers require from shopping apps, and how retailers can provide a better experience for their customers who use mobile devices. "I think shopping apps are popular with consumers because they are a great way to experience a brand in an immersive digital setting," Steven Boal, CEO of Quotient, told the E-Commerce Times.

"Much like a physical store where consumers can experience a shopping environment that's created for physical discovery, shopping apps can have the same experiential effect, with the added value of convenience to experience it anytime and anywhere.

"Consumers can hold the power of the relationship in their hands, finding ways to save, deciding how to order, where to pick up or deliver, and participating in loyalty programs or any other benefits a brand offers."

The ubiquity of mobile devices, along with the need for contactless shopping during the pandemic, are among the factors behind the rise in shopping app use.

"With 81 percent of Americans having access to a smartphone, e-commerce experiences are very heavily tied to mobile devices," said Boal.

"Companies and brands that offer shopping apps strive to make online experiences memorable and intuitive; and today, there's also the added value of contact-free interactions that pave the end-to-end customer path," he explained.

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Branding by App

With the convenience they offer, apps have become a key method for brands to establish identity and connect with their consumers.

"Convenience is increasingly driving the consumer experience," suggested Heidi Bullock, CMO at Tealium.

"Branded shopping apps that are designed to work on smartphones and tablets allow consumers to have the best mobile experience with the brand from anywhere, whether it's on the couch or in-store.

"Rather than having to search through emails for past orders or search online for deals and coupons, shopping apps provide the convenience of a centralized hub for consumers' relationship with a brand. Beyond just being convenient, it also allows consumers to shop in-the-moment, rather than stay on top of a growing shopping list."

Bullock added, "Busy parents, for example, can restock on diapers from their phone while they're thinking about it, instead of trying to remember it and find time to go to the store later."

Ideally, shopping apps give consumers an experience that is in line with their overall experience with that brand.

"The best shopping apps support the entire customer experience, and that means building them on top of a complete customer data foundation that works in real time to stay updated," noted Bullock.

"Amazon, of course, stands out as a standard bearer here because there's very little the app can't do to support the customer experience -- whether you're doing typical things like researching a product, looking at reviews, searching for support or using advanced features like augmented reality to see what a new piece of furniture will look like in your living space.

"With the right customer data to fuel the shopping app, any brand can provide more personalized experiences that also make shopping simpler and more fun."

Keys to Success

Seamlessness and ease-of-use are key to successful shopping apps.

"Shopping apps should be easy to navigate to discover and find the right products, have seamless payment and commerce flows, and more than anything, tailor the experience as much as possible to the user -- everything from the product assortment to individualized offers," Rob Fagnani, head of business development and operations at Formation, told the E-Commerce Times.

"While consumers want discounts and deals, these incentives only prove useful when the product is truly desired by the shopper. Nothing is a bigger turn off to a consumer than an irrelevant offer, which has the potential to damage perception and future engagement."

To feel useable and relevant, apps must, ultimately, fit naturally into the daily life of consumers.

"I believe that shopping apps should feel like a natural extension of the way consumers think and act," explained Boal. "They should respond seamlessly to the way shoppers want to behave or interact with a brand, rather than trying to force a rigid or predetermined type of experience or behavior.

"Consumers don't expect or want to deal with a steep learning curve. They want to download an app and instantly understand how it works -- whether they're looking for a particular item, browsing a weekly sales ad, or scrolling through the latest promotions. When those promotions are tied to the consumers' behavior or previous interactions, you can create a warm, unique, memorable and valuable experience."

Major Brands Are Investing in VR. About 75 percent of the Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands have created some form of virtual reality or augmented reality experience for customers or employees, or are themselves developing these technologies. Given that this study was conducted in October 2015, the number is likely significantly higher.

Personalization is a large part of a user-friendly app experience.

"The best shopping apps recognize consumers on an individual level and tie their motivations to the user experience," said Fagnani. "Some users may trade in longer shipping times for discounted goods, while others are willing to pay a premium in order to receive their order the very next day."

Apps that are easy to use are also quicker to use -- another metric that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of an app.

"Evolving the experience over time so that it is personalized and anticipates the user's next need is a key component to mobile app success," Britt Mills, senior director of customer experience for Mobiquity, told the E-Commerce Times.

"An app is a great place to house a loyalty program, and we are seeing that most users are shifting from a points- and discount-based program to one that offers experience benefits -- things like seamless ordering, early access, personalized and little to no effort transactions.

"Three years ago, a success metric for a retail-based app was time-in-app. Now, the goal is to make it as quick and easy as possible and decreasing time-in-app for conversion is key."

Future Apps

Shopping apps will continue to evolve with consumer demand and needs, and over time they are likely to become an even more integral part of the retail landscape.

"While some customers are comfortable going to physical shops now, many brands need to continue maintaining and growing their physical and digital storefronts for the months and years to come," Leena Iyar, chief brand officer at Moxtra, told the E-Commerce Times.

"The rapid transition to digital experiences has accelerated the trend we already saw coming. Consumers are likely to continue using a blend of in-store and digital solutions even when the world returns to normal.

"Moving forward, retailers should explore ways to make their digital solutions blend with in-store. Offering customers unique ways to shop, pay and engage through a mobile app while they are in-store will ensure brands maintain their digital presence and customer engagement as they look to the future."

Ultimately, successful shopping apps will seek to connect customers with the rest of their digital and physical lives.

"With the rise in competition and just the vast number of choices posed to every consumer, I feel the future will bring even more data-driven, tailored shopping experiences to every customer," Rob Van Nuenen, CEO of Channable, told the E-Commerce Times.

"It will not be enough to just advertise your products, but you will have to actively pursue and engage your potential customers, through avenues such as tailored remarketing, custom UX for every client on each app, and seamless checkouts.

"You can see the beginning of this already taking place with the integration of social media and marketplaces, such as Facebook and Instagram, and with the likes of TikTok and YouTube following suit. A seamlessly-tailored online experience between social and business is the next step in a world tailored to each individual."

It Is Global. Virtual reality is not just a thing in the United States alone. People all over the globe are learning to embrace the technology. Some of the biggest virtual reality conventions are actually held in other nations. Some of the leading companies behind virtual reality are located overseas as well. Virtual reality is gradually becoming a great way to connect with people from around the world. No matter the distance, this technology can bring people together.

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