Paul Barnes, Northern Europe and Middle East territory director at App Annie, considers the place of mobile’s main content platforms.
Since the birth of the App Store nine years ago, the time spent in apps has continued to increase. Today, we engage with apps for an average of two hours a day, and over 85 per cent of time on mobile is spent in apps.
The mobile web will continue to exist, but will never compete with mobile apps. It’s like 3D versus 2D: they both serve a purpose, but one is undeniably richer in information. For many brands, the app is their main digital portal, while the mobile web serves as a springboard for the audience – a tool for discoverability.
However, there are still many brands that see apps as supplementary, an aesthetic flourish for the brand, rather than a sales driver. If mobile isn’t at the core of a brand’s business, then investment in apps could understandably seem non-essential, but that would mean missing out on a major sales channel and a growing financial prospect. In our latest report, we forecast that mCommerce transactions will increase by $5 trillion ($4 trillion) by 2021, to reach an astounding $6.3 trillion.
As phones have evolved into handheld computers, customers, too, have evolved far beyond the understanding of the typical retailer. Expectations have never been higher. In the same progressive curve, though, opportunities to engage and delight have grown with equal fervour.
Apps incorporate features and technology which help to create a better user experience for customers. Today’s customers expect a streamlined and efficient brand experience. For any brand, it’s not the direct industry competitors that set the standard, it’s the start-up tech scene. For example, if a customer downloads Topshop’s app, they’re not comparing the experience to Zara’s app; they’re comparing it to Facebook, Snapchat… the very best apps, which they use every day. Brands needs to raise the bar, to meet their consumers’ expectations.
Retail banking is a good example of a vertical that’s adapted to the mindset of digital natives. For example, customers can now open a bank account directly through their mobile and, if this isn’t possible with their current bank, they’re likely to switch to a service that provides them with a smoother, easier experience.
By the same token, however, customer loyalty can be built through apps at a deeper level of engagement than is possible with mobile web. The more information a brand can harvest from its customers, the better it can tailor both the content and the experience to match the interests of a particular user. Push notifications based on geolocations, wish lists and ad hoc updates: apps have a number of tools that can provide a dynamic portal to customer engagement – a 3D experience, compared to the 2D web.
This is a mainstream phenomenon, not limited to mobile games or social media. Innovative security features like single-touch identification and voice activation have helped retail banking apps and stock trading apps continue to grow. Augmented reality features let interior shoppers envisage what their new furniture will look like before they even set foot in the store. Travellers can get the best exchange rate instantly through apps like Revolut, Transferwise and N26, and can check in at airports using their smartphone as a boarding pass. While the mobile web can be a quick and easy source of information, mobile apps have acted as a catalyst of consumer behavioural change.
Despite this, you’re still likely to hear, ‘But the app stores are so crowded,’ from overwhelmed industry veterans. If it were down to these people to find the pulse of the industry in an emergency, the industry would simply die.
Companies don’t decide that they shouldn’t set up a website because there are already too many websites. Instead, marketers have developed intelligent SEO strategies to market their sites – and, naturally, the app economy has its own guidelines for successful ASO (App Store Optimisation).
Nine years ago, when the App Store first opened its doors, very little was known about app data compared to the web. But things have changed. While the industry was talking about multiscreen mobile web, consumers were already steps ahead, embracing mobile apps. And today we know that 2016 saw 900bn hours spent in apps, up 150bn hours on the previous year.
So it’s no longer a question of whether you should have an app, but how you are going to execute a successful app strategy.