In the past decade, apps have evolved from a novelty to an essential component of every modern business, but some brands are still ignoring the need for an efficient, user-friendly mobile app. Chris Bishop, business director at Chelsea Apps Factory, explores where the app industry stands and why apps have become so central to so many businesses.
It’s 10 years now since the Apple App Store first launched. 10 years since the mobile phone became the device none of us could live without. The technology that made the mobile an indispensable tool for business, retail and recreation. There are now apps for every operating system, utilising the native features of every device to deliver extraordinary customer experiences.
The 'Must Have' Platform for Every Business
From novelty to ‘nice to have’, to ‘must have’ – it wasn’t long before the app became the ultimate shop front on an infinite, global High Street. It harnessed the unique capabilities of mobile and powered the ‘on demand’ revolution that has changed the way we live forever.
The popularity of the app has shown no signs of abating. Globally, app downloads are expected to have reached 258.2bn by 2022 up from 178.1bn in 2017. By 2020, mobile apps are projected to generate $188.9bn (£145.4bn) annually in revenues via app stores and in-app advertising.
The app has offered brands the opportunity to create a personalised channel for one to one engagement with every individual no matter where they are in the world. It is the reason we keep our phones with us all the time, that we constantly engage with them - endlessly checking for updates, notifications and fresh content. Entertainment, news, commerce - it is still the case that nearly everything we consume on mobile is mediated through mobile applications. Don’t forget, on average - 80 per cent of mobile minutes worldwide are spent on an app.
Apps Define The Brand
But something more fundamental has happened. 10 years on from the launch of the technology, the app is becoming the brand. Because everything we want from a brand in the 21st Century is encapsulated in the app experience – personalization, intuitive UX, and design led, on demand services.
Think about Uber – a company that reallys is the app – a brand that uses mobile technology to create an offering entirely based around customer’s needs. Everything about their relationship with the brand can be controlled and configured from that hub in their hand. Uber have turned the phone into something that we could never have imagined before the app arrived. A transportation device – from which we can summon and track cars at will - without even speaking or leaving our chair - at any time of the day or night.
Location based services, mapping, push notification and real time payment, all working creatively and seamlessly together to deliver one extraordinary and indispensable UX. And I can guarantee that the app will deliver more revolutionary and disruptive surprises in the years to come.
What is a Business Without an App?
Because the app is the technology that has harnessed and turbo charged every other disruptive commercial movement of the last 10 years. It has reimagined film and TV for the on demand generation, it has restructured the way we consume news media, it has reshaped the provision of financial services and transformed the travel industry. So, a business that isn’t engaging with app technology or is doing so half heartedly is placing themselves at a commercial disadvantage. More than that, they are signaling to their customers that they are not engaging with the future.
Research is telling us that customers want more mobile engagement from the brands they deal with, not less. They are expecting their apps to be central to their customer experience, offering discounts, providing new payment mechanisms, and delivery options, as well as leading the way with new and cutting edge design.
Don't Play Catch Up
While customers spend 69 per cent more time on their phone than the fixed line internet, they spend 49 per cent less money on their mobile. And it’s not because they don’t want to make big or important purchases on their mobile (even back in 2011 one Marks & Spencer customer felt able to purchase a £5000 sofa on their iPhone).
In fact, the reluctance to spend on mobile is usually stems from a terrible user experience. When asked, 80 per cent of customers who had held back from buying on mobile cited u/x problems such as:
And, of course, great app design is the answer to all these issues, whether it’s more intuitive menu design, AI technology offering better predictions about customer preference or image recognition for credit card payments. It’s clear that a brand that is not engaging with this technology is demonstrating a singular and dangerous lack of ambition.
Effectiveness and Efficiencies
In the early days of mobile, the takeaway pizza industry found itself unable to rise to the challenge of the technology that promised so much. They could see the potential yet were unable or unwilling to invest in the right design to meet customer expectations.
I’m old enough to remember Pizza companies asking you to go on your PC to tell them your ‘usual order’ and ‘usual address’. The hope was it would encourage simple one click ordering on a mobile site or via a single text message. But the limitations this imposed on customer behaviour and choice was antithetical to the new era of freedom for consumers which the mobile phone was supposed to offer. Amazingly it took till 2016 for Domino’s pizza to launch their payment and ordering app. This upswing in effectiveness then resulted in an immediate increase of 28 per cent in their ecommerce profits.
Building an internal employee app and placing that at heart of what you do, as a company, can bring similar multi-million pounds but in savings to your business. Workers on oil rigs can now store all their health and safety documents comfortably in their pocket, eliminating the need for an inefficient folder full of documents that soon go out-of-date.
Similarly big four consultancy firms now have internal contact and productivity apps for all their employees which can mobilise a business globally to allow seamless communication and project management therefore nearly entirely reducing a level of headcount. Ultimately, embracing the app brings two benefits: you either improve your effectiveness or your efficiency. Put simply; you either make money or you save money.
The story of brands unwilling to face the future and spend money on technology is a familiar one. And it rarely ends well. In the restaurant business, are those resisting spending on mobile loyalty and ‘dine and dash’ technology setting themselves up for a fall?
No Future Without an App
It’s worth every brand considering what opportunities they are missing with their app strategy. In the realm of banking and financial services there are still some terrible experiences to be had (although I’ll leave the naming and shaming to others) which suggest a real lack of design engagement at a critical time in the industry. An app is, after all, an investment in a technological future which is accelerating at breakneck speed.
The banking industry is ripe for technological disruption - driven by the API revolution and discontented millennials who want out of the banks’ walled gardens. But the lesson here applies to every business. If you don’t make the investment now to understand and exploit the new app technology that is poised to flood and disrupt every sector, it could be your company that is the next to drown.
Chris Bishop is business director at Chelsea Apps Factory