Does your store really need that app?

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More people shop on their phones than they do on a desktop browser. And most of the time that people spend on their phones is on an app. Lots of retailers are taking that to mean that they should make an app for their store, and the Shopify Mobile Software Development Kit (SDK) lets them easily combine an app with e-commerce capabilities.

But should they? While apps can be a great tool for some, they’re not actually helpful for most e-commerce stores.

Near my old place in London was a cafe called Department of Coffee and Social Affairs. They’re a small chain with several branches across the UK, that also sells coffee beans and merchandise online. Their app lets me check in when I’m at one of their branches, giving me loyalty points and special offers, as well as helping me find the nearest location, learn about their social impact and buy from their store. But the feature I loved was that I could place an order in advance and pay for coffee using the app, so when I walked in and was in a rush, my coffee was ready to go.

To me, that’s an example of an app for a retailer that makes sense to download. It had clear benefits, and was a connection between mobile convenience and face-to-face interactions. But, if it was just an app for a store that I looked at for holiday shopping, there’s no way I’d take up the space on my phone.

What happens when you offer a mobile app

There are definitely some solid reasons to invest in an app, if it’s right for your store.

First off, user info is stored. This means users that need to sign in can save time which we know is a huge factor in increasing conversions. Storing info like credit card information and previous purchase history allows customers to easily reorder without hassle.

Collecting more data on your users helps you personalise your customer engagement. This is especially useful when you have a loyalty programme in place. An app can combine a shopping experience with loyalty rewards to offer a pretty seamless experience - think of the Starbucks Gold Card, which uses the app to collect points.

Apps are also a great place to collect User-Generated Content, which is great for building trust and buzz around your brand.

And, apps with GPS features can do all sorts of cool user engagement activities, like in-store navigation or find-the-nearest tools. The Home Depot, for example, has an app that lets users browse for what they need, and when they’re in an actual store, guide them to the right aisle.

Saving your customers time, personalising content and giving loyalty rewards can all help with one huge goal: getting your customers to come back. A recent study showed that apps can work well when it comes to repeat usage. One in eight shoppers using a retail mobile app used it 10 times a week - pretty good in terms of customer engagement.

Ok but what are the drawbacks?

Apps take space and can be a hassle

No phone has unlimited space, and your users are deciding the opportunity cost of each app they download. At the end of the day, if they’re likely to use a different type of app (transportation, social media, photography, etc.) than a retail app, yours is going to be deleted first.

Downloading apps is pretty easy, but it still takes time, battery and a bit of hassle. If a customer decides they want to buy something, and would have been able to do it in a minute on a website, but you’re making them download an app first, they might just say no.

They can annoy your users if they don’t see the added value

If a shopper is unable to make a purchase from their phone without using your app, it’s not hard for them to get annoyed. There are all sorts of reasons they might not want to download an app, especially if they’re only looking to buy one thing. Pinterest, for example, doesn’t let you browse or buy from a mobile browser without downloading an app - and personally, that’s why I’ve never spent much time shopping through Pinterest.

They’re expensive to develop, and usually need a lot of TLC

Developing an app, unless you have a lot of technical knowledge yourself, takes hiring an expert and usually thousands of dollars. It also will need pretty regular maintenance, bug fixes, and updates - especially if your app is complex. As a merchant, it’s important to think... is it really worth it?

So, should you create an app for your Shopify store?

Of course, it depends. We’ve gone over the pros and cons, so here are a few questions that can help you answer that question.

Do you need customer accounts for your business?

Customer accounts can look like VIP programmes, subscription programmes, or some form of marketplace (ASOS marketplace, for example). If your business model revolves around having customers sign in and stay signed in to do any sort of transaction, then an app can be useful.

If your model is more of a traditional see-something-off-the-shelf-and-buy-it format, you probably don’t need a dedicated app. And in fact, making someone download an app can be a big deterrent if they don’t see the value of it for them. Instead, make sure your website is optimised for mobile and desktop.

Is what you sell something that people would buy every week?

This is sort of an easy rule of thumb. You should consider an app if your customers are likely to interact with you every week (or pretty frequently). If it’s a once-in-a-while purchase, you probably shouldn’t have an app.

Are you offering something other than purchases with your app?

People might still be interested in using your app, even if they’re not interested in buying something every time they open it. If you have some sort of complimentary service that works with your brand and makes it more than just a store, an app might work for you.

For example, Shopify merchant Seedling Comic Studio has an app that lets kids (who are we kidding though, adults too, because it’s awesome) design their own comics using the app that their parents can then purchase. Having a creative studio feature makes the app more like a game than a store, with the added bonus of being able to sell a unique, printed version.

Does your store require a lot of browsing?

One of the advantages of apps is that they can be noticeably faster at loading data than a mobile website. Although it’s really a delay of only a couple seconds, those couple of seconds are annoying. Especially if you’re browsing through a really large collection. If your store has just a few key items that can all be displayed on a page or two, an app might not make any difference. But if your store has tons of products and variations, an app might help customers browse more quickly.

Whether you want an app or not, we’re here to help

Elkfox is a Shopify Expert that can help you take the next step in growing your e-commerce business. If you want a cool app that keeps your users engaged, we can make it. If you instead want a mobile site that’s optimised for customers browsing on their phones, we can make it. Get in touch with us to find out more.