Last Updated on
April 6, 2024

How Retailers Can Drive More Sales With Mobile Apps

Published in
Key takeaways:
  • Shopping habits are changing, with more consumers shopping on mobile and more of these shoppers preferring apps.
  • Traditional marketing channels like email marketing and paid advertising are becoming less effective.
  • Mobile apps offer a solution as a cost-effective communication channel and a ready-made retention machine.

Shopping habits have drastically changed in just the last few years. In the wake of COVID-19, inflation, and the rise of Gen Z, traditional sales methods aren't enough in today's world. For example, in 2023 alone, mobile purchases reached $2.2 trillion, making up 60% of all ecommerce sales globally, according to Statista.

In an environment like this, traditional methods of attracting and retaining customers, like email marketing and websites, are less effective at driving sales. Today, you need a mobile app. In this guide, I will explain why traditional methods are harder to rely on, and what you can do about it.

Read More of the Latest Mobile Commerce Statistics

What's Different About Shopping Habits Today?

Even though online shopping has been around for decades, it has taken a drastic turn recently. In the aftermath of COVID-19 and the presence of ever-rising inflation, customers are more careful with their money than ever. Furthermore, the audiences you must target are now much more tech-savvy. 

These days, 39% of shoppers value budget-friendly options, and 22% plan to delay purchases altogether. They're pickier with their spending, too, focusing on top-notch platforms they can trust. Customers shopping online want high-quality images, ample deals, and discounts to entice them to commit to a purchase. 

Loyalty is also crucial in capturing these customers and driving sales. Retailers have found that omnichannel experiences that target customers to keep them engaged lead to repeat business. Australian online liquor store BoozeBud noticed that they could use a mobile app to drive signups to their loyalty program, but only if it tied in with their existing loyalty program on their website.

Traditional techniques are not enough

Even though shopping habits are shifting, you may think you've seen this before. After all, you've got a website set up for your store, and that's good enough, right? Not so fast.

After COVID-19, shopping habits shifted online, and many people are now "more engaged in online shopping than prior to the pandemic," according to the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. Furthermore, 42.2% plan to be more engaged in online shopping going forward. Plus, 47% of Gen Z shops "mostly online" and do most of that shopping on their phones.

As David Cost, VP of Ecommerce and Marketing at Rainbow Shops, notes,

"In our experience, users break into two camps. There are users who prefer to buy on the app and users who prefer using the browser. You can't convince one to go the other way, you need to meet them where they are."

That lines up well with the fact that nearly 49% of people believe that “shopping via apps” is a primary reason to use a smartphone in the first place. So, even if you have a website, you're missing out on customers who exclusively shop using an app.

Email marketing isn’t what it used to be

If shifting shopping habits weren't enough, online advertising is seeing massive shifts, too. Perhaps the most notable are drastic changes to email marketing. 

Beginning in February 2024, Gmail will require bulk senders to authenticate their emails. This means your tech stack is about to get way more complicated and expensive. You must set up Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) for each sending address with your provider. Plus, all mail will require a Transport Security Layer (TLS), which some providers may not offer.

What happens if you fail these checks? Gmail blocks your emails, rejects them, or sends them straight to spam. Your customers will never see them.

There are a few things you can do to ensure email is the best it can be, however. Besides the obvious such as implementing Google’s new requirements, you can try the following:

  1. Segment and personalize: make sure your communications are targeted to specific types of customers, their needs, and their shopping habits. Harness all the data you can about them and use this data to your advantage.
  2. Keep subject lines short and clear: You only have around 10 or 12 words maximum before a subject line feels too long, so use it to your best advantage. Include a clear message, instill a sense of urgency, and get to the point. Try, for example, “Lowest prices ever on skincare—this weekend only!” about a limited-time offer or “You left something behind” to reference an abandoned cart.
  3. Make CTAs clear: Get to the point also applies to the body of the email. Make sure your CTA is clear and easy to spot, and don’t bury it at the bottom of the message.

There’s a catch, however. Even if you set up all these features, email marketing has become less and less effective over time. Fewer customers bother to open emails from brands, let alone click on any links inside. In fact, fewer than half of all emails get opened, and just 3.01% of readers click on anything. You’ll still need a more comprehensive solution in the form of an app.

Online advertising is not the same, either

You may think that, if email marketing is in decline, paid advertising is the way to go. However, this option is becoming more and more expensive.

Not only do you have to pay to promote your business on Facebook, TikTok, and other platforms, but these costs can quickly outscale your business. You'll spend far more on advertising than you could hope to recoup through additional sales. In 2024, it costs 12.28% more to advertise on TikTok than last year, and 7.4% more on Meta platforms (Facebook and Instagram).

Plus, you are not in control of social media and streaming platforms, and they could change the rules on you at any time. Just recently, for 2024, Facebook announced many changes, including a limit of eight conversion events per domain, the removal of 28-day conversion tracking, and a pivot to preferring video ads.

This means it costs tons of money to capture customers, making it unprofitable in the long run. Instead, you need to keep customers engaged, increase the frequency of purchases, and enhance loyalty. Basically, paid advertising gets you brand awareness, but customer retention is what makes you money.

People aren't sticking to broadcast television or the usual channels you used to be able to target, either. Streaming media, YouTube, and more means there are far more places to place ads for an effective strategy to work, which adds even more expense.

What can you do to ensure your online strategy is worth it? Here are a few things to try:

  1. Use targeted ads: Much like with email marketing, you want to use all the data you have about a customer to advertise to them. Try using ads as a space to remind them of abandoned carts, or track their shopping habits and recommend similar products to what they already buy.
  2. Get creative: Static pictures aren’t exciting as audiovisual content, so if you can make a quick TikTok video to promote your brand or product, try it! It doesn’t have to be fancy, just short, sweet, and to the point. Or, set up a clear brand voice, like Wendy’s famous Twitter feed, that makes you stand out.
  3. Harness the power of influence: People trust people more than brands, so if you can hire an influencer to promote your products, give that a try. The ROI on influencers can be as high as 650%! If that seems out of reach, consider starting an affiliate program. Plus, you can take advantage of online reviews by showcasing favorable ratings of your product or service.

Still, with this landscape presenting so many challenges, brands often assume they can rely on SMS messages to engage customers. However, this approach becomes extremely expensive. You have to pay for the SMS messages you send, and customers have begun to tune out text messages like they do emails. They may open them, but they don’t tend to tap on links or do much else.

That's where push notifications come in. David Cost notes that,

"The power of push notifications is so strong. In a world where people open email less and less each day, everyone is jumping into SMS, which is crazy expensive, and people are starting to tune these out too; being able to do push notifications is the reason you do an app."

Push notifications are easy and basically free to send, but you need an app to send them. They let you include personalized details, images, and more. Plus, they tend to lead to more conversions, with a click rate that is seven times higher than email marketing.

The solution to all these problems is launching your own mobile app. But what kind of app, and how can you build an app quickly, and for a reasonable investment?

Let’s answer these questions now.

What Should Your Mobile App Be Like?

It might seem like you're starting from square one when building an app, but you're not. Your website is square one toward creating an app. 

The Baymard Institute Institute finds that 98% of their guidelines for mobile websites also apply to apps, meaning they should work and feel similar. 

As noted earlier, some customers stick to your website and others to an app, so you need both. That's because mobile versions are not optimized for handheld devices like phones. Sure, they work, but the experience is not quite as good and often leads to abandoned carts.

Crucially, websites cannot send push notifications reliably and on all devices. You need an app for that. With these essential points in mind, we can dive into how to build your app and why this will drive sales.

Don't duplicate your efforts

Building and maintaining your website requires lots of time and investment, so creating an app should not. Don't be tempted to construct it from scratch, either. As Kenneth Chan, founder and CEO of Tobi, an online fashion retailer, found out,

"When you develop an app, you can't just have one person… To keep a platform like this in-house, I feel like you'd probably need around six people."

That is a costly proposition. Not to mention the dedicated team and time you'll have to create devoted to continually fixing and improving your app over the years.

Plus, going down this route means all the work you put in for your website will have to be done again for your app. They will not share the same code base and won't integrate with each other very well.

If you’re constantly having to update two platforms every time you make a change to your product catalog, or create a new promotion, you’ll be weighed down by overhead.

Instead, think of it this way: you already created the online experience you want with your website; now make it an app.

The better, cheaper way to build an app and drive sales

MobiLoud lets you quickly turn your existing website into an app. That includes custom functionality, branding, and anything else you've already created. For instance, when fashion retailer rue21 announced a $100,000 promotion that tied their app with their stores and website, they needed that app built in less than a week.

MobiLoud got it built within four days. There was no in-house coding or rebuilding, just their website made into an app. This meant their promotion was a success, and rue21 also saw continuing improvements. These included:

  • More than 45,000 app downloads in two months.
  • 70% higher average revenue per user in the app.
  • 10% higher engagement time in the app.

All of this was possible because MobiLoud worked with their existing tech stack. Crucially, it also enabled push notifications and automatic syncing across their entire catalog, with their look and branding intact.

Some of the mobile apps built with MobiLoud

While DIY solutions may promise something similar, don't fall for it. They take time and effort to rebuild your web experience in the app, and still you’ll never fully be able to fully recreate that experience.

These solutions also tend to tie you into a specific platform by their dependence on platform APIs. This can be very limiting to your business moving forward.

As David Cost noted, 

"We were working with another wrapper app provider, but we moved from Salesforce to Shopify, their solution stopped working and they were never able to solve it."

Furthermore, even if they found a new Shopify-compatible solution, it also quickly fell apart.

"The hybrid solutions on top of Shopify are just too limited. The Shopify API only enables certain things, and all the major providers of hybrid apps for Shopify had limitations that the Shopify API would not let them get around."

To enable the maximum number of sales, your app must work with your existing website and keep working if you change things. 

Your app is essential for driving loyalty

There is no overstating how much apps can drive loyalty. After all, the most dedicated shoppers are most likely to download and use your app. Its presence in the iOS and Android app stores is advertising for you and a crucial way to integrate yourself into their daily lives.

Again, push notifications are a big reason why. David Cost found that, 

"Push notifications are the cheapest and most powerful communication channel we have. We find that users who prefer to interact via an app are more loyal, buy from us more often, and spend more time with our content."

It’s even better if you can send notifications while a user is browsing your app. In-app notifications have an open rate three times higher than regular push notifications, according to Truelist.

App users are more loyal and engaged for a variety of reasons. Namely, you can target them with exclusive coupons, discounts, offers, and more. And unlike social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, or YouTube, you own the entire experience when it's your app. That means no paying for social media ads or SMS messages and no sudden changes in the rules when you least expect them.

Basically, every feature already found on your website will work better on mobile when you turn it into an app. This includes upselling, social proof, and the checkout process. 

According to Gavin McGary, CEO of Gear2Go, a peer-to-peer marketplace,

"These customers are far more app-based in terms of their engagement with websites and brands. We wanted to get into the App Store so that we could have that direct connection with our primary demographic, who are far more comfortable using their phones."

Apps let you keep customers engaged for longer

Beyond the obvious points, like shoppers being more likely to browse longer while in an app and spend more money or that apps make the overall shopping experience easier, there are certain features only turning your website into an app allows for.

For example, as mentioned, Gen Z shoppers are the next target demographic on the rise, and they crave novel online shopping experiences. These include AI and VR shopping to try on items virtually before they buy, see how furniture will look in their homes, and more. Only an app can enable these kinds of experiences.

Furthermore, when someone downloads your app, you can harvest data about them and use it to sell. You get their app usage habits, name, approximate location, date of birth, and much more. And instead of bothering with email marketing or other outdated techniques, you can send push notifications directly to them based on these data points.

You can experiment with your app, too. Remember, it is under your control, so test-marketing new products, promotions, and other offers carries much less risk. Try creating lookbooks, social communities, giveaways, and more. These experiences are important to keeping customers engaged.

For instance, VERO MODA, a fashion brand with 3000 stores in 32 countries, had a custom-built native app but quickly found it was expensive and laborious to maintain. MobiLoud lets them keep the same high-quality app experience their loyal customers expect for less. 

And they picked up on something else, too, according to Product Owner Svend Hansen,

"Something we've noticed is that users who use the app are better customers, either they spend more, they spend more often, they come back and we've higher retention."

The Takeaway

You need to turn your existing website into an app. There's no way around it. Shopping habits have changed dramatically in just the last few years, showing no signs of returning to the way they were. Customers are on their phones more than ever, and they expect a seamless experience when shopping online.

You've already built an online presence with your website, so don't waste time doing it all over again to create an app. Instead, you can quickly turn your website into an app with MobiLoud, as the other companies mentioned here have already done, and do it faster and cheaper, too.

Svend Hansen from Bestseller, one of the world’s largest fashion companies, says:

"We couldn't find another company that could offer the same features at the same price point, same time to market, and make it as easy as MobiLoud could."

Contact us today to learn how to turn your existing website into an app and keep pace with today's retail enviornment.

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