#Asia How customers are changing the app world (and how you can keep them engaged)


It’s going to take more than just a few push notifications to stay on your customer’s mobile device

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“There’s an app for that.” That phrase has become shorthand for our current reality; these days, consumers depend on their mobile devices for everything from reviews to price comparisons. And this trend is growing: according to Pew Research, 74 per cent of adult smartphone owners use their phone to get directions or other information based on their current location, a boon for savvy retailers who are finding an effective app is the best way to engage with customers and prospects.

At my company Yeti, we work with a variety of companies looking to engage customers and prospects with apps, and in doing so, we’ve learned a lot about what’s working now (and what isn’t). For example, we worked with a health-focussed consumer product company focussed on selling fresh food to their customers. After testing, we discovered that enabling users to track their produce and measure both their own and their family members’ consumption were added benefits — things that users really enjoyed and that brought them back into the app again and again.

This experience and others I’ve had point to some critical trends converging to fuel the demand for apps that increase customer engagement:

  • Consumers’ demand for immediate gratification is growing. Successful apps streamline the buying process. For instance, smartphone users can “push for pizza” to order directly from the nearest pizzeria, instantly summon an Uber car, or use Zeel to book a same-day in-home massage. The trend is towards eliminating all possible sources of friction between the consumer and what he or she wants (hence, the rise of wearables and smart watches, which help people connect with technology and get that immediate gratification without even using a device).
  • Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology is becoming more popular and affordable. BI Intelligence estimates that 570 million Android and Apple phones, roughly one-third, are compatible with BLE, the signal emitted by beacons to ping smartphone apps. In the same report BI Intelligence found that these devices are the fastest-growing in-store technology since mobile credit card readers – and growth is projected to be huge. They predict the beacon-installed base will see triple-digit growth rates over the next few years. This technology makes it possible for phones to connect with nearby devices without draining their batteries, allowing the phones’ tracking technology to be used to trigger actions based on the user’s proximity to a certain device or location.

Also Read: Born into poverty in rural China, this guy made an app that gives free WiFi, got 800M users and raised US$52M

Apps that leverage beacon technology and instant gratification are changing in-store buying

Retailers and product marketers alike are seizing opportunities to better engage their customers through apps. Shopkick’s BLE app, for instance, mastered the convergence of these two trends through its many elements that engage shoppers at the point of purchase. The best-known is a programme that offers rewards that can be redeemed for gift cards (they call them “kicks”) for visiting various stores. Shopkick is affiliated with a bunch of big-box stores, from Macy’s to Old Navy, but it’s not just about earning rewards: users can browse various stores’ merchandise and then when walking past the store, get a notification that the item is nearby – and possibly on sale.

Macy’s use of the Shopkick app is a particularly powerful use case. One of the main reasons that offers aren’t redeemed is because they oftentimes don’t fit customers’ needs. With the app, Macy’s is able to successfully lure in shoppers with discounts on items that are exactly what they are looking for. The app also notes which products a customer has lingered nearby or considered, and then sends a promotional offer or discount for that very product.

Another great use case is the Apple Store app, through which you can simplify the in-store shopping process at your local Apple Store by getting alerts for reviews and other details about products that you are standing next to. You can even make purchases independently by scanning a product barcode on your smartphone.

Also Read: Abra allows fast money transfers in the Philippines and the US with its new app

How to build an app that is both engaging and relevant

Worried about being too intrusive with marketing outreach? That’s the beauty of an app: customers have asked for engagement. A recent Forrester Study found that about nearly 50 per cent of consumers under age 50 are comfortable sharing their location in a store in exchange for “product offers and/or discounts.” And consumers who receive push notifications from shopping/coupon apps spend almost double the time using these apps as those who do not opt in.

But there’s also the danger of “app overload.” A May 2015 Google study found that the average app user has 36 apps installed on his or her smartphone. While 25 per cent are used daily, another quarter of the apps are never used. The study also found that incentives can be effective in renewing app usage: of those who stop using apps, 30 per cent would use an app again if offered a discount, and 24 per cent would reuse an app if it offered exclusive or bonus content. These numbers indicate the need for app developers to keep user experience and engagement top of mind.

For businesses looking to innovate by creating or retooling their mobile strategy, taking a look at their brand’s current and potential touch points with customers is a good start. Ask the question, “Where can my business engage with my customers?” More importantly, though, is analysing where your customers might want to be engaged with your business: Where in the customer lifecycle can you add value?

The bottom line is that to maintain that crucial “real estate” on a customer’s mobile device, an app needs to do much more than represent a version of a company’s website. A mobile app needs to truly drive engagement by helping consumers save time, money, frustration — or ideally all three. As technology continues to evolve with ever more uses for BLE and IoT, companies that have figured out how to make their app ever more relevant to consumers will win. Adding value to a customer’s life is the only true measure of engagement.

Tony Scherba is the President and Founder of Yeti, a product-focussed development and design studio in San Francisco. Yeti works with companies from large enterprises to startups on building innovative products that blend the physical and digital world.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organisation comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship programme that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Image Credit: Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

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