Shopping Apps: Are They Worth It For Retailers?

03 June 2024
by Sam Cullen

Anyone opening the app store recently will have seen the massive number of shopping apps that Apple suggests you download.

From eCommerce platforms like Shopify’s Shop app and marketplaces like Amazon to third-party finance providers like Klarna and independent retail brands like PrettyLittleThing, it seems every eCommerce retailer has an app.

So you should, too, right?

Not so fast. While these shopping apps appear to be incredibly popular and can lead to more conversions and revenue, they aren’t necessarily worth the investment. As we’ll explore in this article, retailers—even huge, well-known brands—may be better off investing money elsewhere.

How popular are shopping apps?

The chances are almost all your consumers have at least one shopping app on their phone. Research by app platform ironSource found that 90% of consumers have multiple shopping apps on their phones, and 95% use at least one of these apps once a month or more.

In total, half (48%) of respondents have between two and four apps, 29% have between five and nine apps, and 14% have 10 or more apps. Two-thirds of respondents listed at least one shopping app among their top 10 most used apps.

Marketplace apps like Amazon and Temu are particularly popular. Temu, thanks in part to incredibly low prices and a huge media push, managed to grow from 850,000 weekly active users in October 2022 to over 38 million.

Do shopping apps mean more sales for retailers?

Yes, in theory.

Research shows shoppers view 286% more products when shopping on an app and add items to their cart 85% more often. Mobile apps also convert 130% more often than mobile websites.

The ironSource study also found that 70% of consumers are more likely to shop from an app if it’s already on their phone.

What other benefits are there?

There are plenty of other benefits for both brands and consumers.

For example, customers may appreciate the faster experience an app can deliver. Because most apps store data locally on devices, they are faster than mobile-optimised websites. That should lead to lower bounce rates, fewer cart abandonments and more conversions.

Shopping apps also give you another more direct way to engage customers through push notifications. These mobile-specific messages let you re-engage buyers by recommending products or offering a discount.

They can also increase the likelihood that consumers keep your app on their phone. Research shows push notifications can increase app retention rates by three to 10 times.

Mobile shopping apps also help brands deliver a more personalised shopping experience. Because customers have to register an account in order to use apps, brands have many more opportunities to deliver personalised product recommendations in an app than they do on their website.

But shopping apps aren’t always worth it

Even if you invest time and money into building an exceptional mobile shopping app and leverage push notifications, there’s no guarantee your customers will keep your app on their phone.

It’s common for users to delete apps, especially shopping apps, which were found to have just a 4% retention rate in Q3 of 2023.

App deletion is especially prevalent around holiday shopping events. A study by Airship found that while Black Friday is the top day for consumers to download shopping apps, consumers are much less likely to open the app a month later. As time goes on, those who installed the app leading up to an event like Black Friday are less likely to open the app again in the future.

This can be a particular problem for small businesses. It can be hard to encourage consumers to download an app from a store they aren’t familiar — and even harder to convince them to keep it on their phone.

Less-than-ideal retention rates aren’t the only problem with shopping apps.

The cost of developing a fully functioning app can be significant. Business of Apps estimates a simple app can cost between $16,000 and $32,000 to develop. A complex app can cost in excess of $70,000.

That’s just the cost of a single app. In reality, you’re almost certainly going to have to develop an iOS app and an Android app separately, especially if you serve customers in Europe, where Android enjoys a 65% market share. Apps also require ongoing updates and maintenance beyond what you do to your website.

How can you tell if you need a shopping app?

So, how can you tell if a mobile app is worth it for your online store? We recommend asking yourself the following questions:

Have you optimised your website for mobile?

Before creating a mobile app, consider evaluating your site’s mobile performance by designing a responsive website and tracking conversion rates.

A responsive website will do an exceptional job of improving the user experience for smartphone users, both in terms of optimising the layout of your site for smaller screens and improving load speed and general performance.

Do your competitors have shopping apps?

It’s understandable if you want to develop a shopping app because all of your competitors have their own apps. It will be hard to rival their user experience otherwise.

But if they don’t, then there may not be the demand for apps among your customer base. It would be especially telling if competitors have had apps in the past but no longer support them.

How many customers do you acquire through search?

If search engines are a big referrer of traffic it may not be worth investing in an app at the expense of your mobile site. That’s because Google uses a mobile-first index to rank websites, which means it assesses your brand’s mobile experience if your site is slow or poorly optimised.

Have you considered a progressive web app (PWA)?

A progressive web app (PWA) offers the best of both worlds: an app's functionality with the underlying technical foundations of a website. That means you can deliver app-like performance to customers anywhere in the world using a single codebase — and without any of the regular updates that come with maintaining iOS or Android apps.

Several well-known retail brands already use PWAs, including George, AliExpress and Walmart.

Shopping app or not, don’t let your delivery experience drop

You can’t ignore the rise of mobile commerce. But just because more customers than ever are buying products using smartphones doesn’t mean you need a dedicated shopping app. For smaller retailers, a mobile-optimised website may be more than enough to attract and convert customers.

What matters most is delivering a great customer experience. Whether you do that through a native app, a PWA or a mobile-responsive website, it’s important not to let the customer experience drop after checkout. That’s why working with a dedicated eCommerce logistics provider like Pro Carrier is so important.

By combining cutting-edge technology, a range of global delivery options and a network of final-mile delivery partners, we can ensure you deliver an exceptional experience in every sense of the word.

Find out more about delivering across borders with Pro Carrier by speaking to an expert today.

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