People sure do get excited on the internet. Around the topic of mobile apps for businesses, that excitement takes the form of blog posts and articles declaring why you absolutely no-doubt-about-it must get one now. Some have gone so far as to call it a necessity, citing an app’s ability to conjure new customers while consistently satisfying old ones. The hype has gotten to be too much, and that’s coming from a guy who started a company that makes mobile apps.
Do you really need an app? Maybe. I’m British, and so prone to understatement. But, really, nobody but you, the business owner, knows whether it would help. What I can tell you is not to start from a spot that dictates you need one. There are some very good reasons to invest in a mobile app, and none of them are “Because they’re popular.”
Here are six of those very good reasons. If any one of them sounds applicable to your business, then yes: you might want to consider one. If they all do, then you probably need one. Or, at least, you need to consider it. I don’t want to presume.
You’re looking for better ways to market your business
Whatever your marketing strategy is, there’s no need to mess with it if it’s working. But if you find yourself constantly running down dead-ends with paid ads, or your social presences haven’t taken off like you hoped, then an app can help. That’s because it’s marketing targeted to a specific group: the people who are already your customers. That’s a great group to start with because they’ve already demonstrated a willingness to shop with you. An app can connect you to those people in ways that an email newsletter can’t. (But also, when they sign in to use your app, you’ve got their email address and can ask to send them an email newsletter, too).
With a mobile app, you can send push notifications to customers with offers or sales announcements. Pushes are notoriously effective: they have a 97 percent read rate and 90 percent of them are read within the first three minutes. That’s a near-instant and direct line of communication which, when deployed thoughtfully, can have very positive results. Couple that ability with GEO-fencing, where push notifications are sent when a user enters a defined perimeter, and the possibilities for always-on marketing campaigns are endless. Well, not really endless, because that’s impossible, but you get the idea.
You want to reward your most loyal customers
Loyalty programs are nothing new, but the way they can be managed within an app is. App users never have to carry a punch or magstripe card to earn rewards. They can accrue points and track them on their smartphones, and you can offer them targeted incentives directly. Mobile apps can also be linked with social media accounts, which means you can incentivise your loyalty participants to share offers with friends and reward them for each successful referral. This is a much more efficient way to attract new customers than broadcasted or displayed ads.
You want to be more available to your customers
Having an app doesn’t just mean you get that direct line to customers with your marketing. It also means they get a line to you. Whether they want to send you praise or (let’s be honest) more likely problems, having that option to send messages inside the app is the next best thing to communicating at your shop. And since it’s mobile you’ll be able to respond to urgent matters any time, no matter where you are. It’s little things like this that can make a small business operate more like a larger one. Actually, better than a larger one, because your response will be more personal than a big company’s automated form letter or generic support reply.
You’re struggling to raise revenue, but can’t afford to expand your hours
Having a mobile app with an e-commerce ability is a great way to open up a new revenue stream. If you’re a retail operation, think of all the hours you’re closed when you could conceivably still be selling your products. And for hospitality, you can vastly improve your takeaway or delivery business by giving people a way to order with their smartphones. It’s easier than calling in the order, ensures accuracy, and customer pickup is more efficient. Because they pay through the app, all that’s left to do is show up and get it. Oh, and when it comes to self-service ordering? Check sizes tend to be bigger, sometimes about 20 percent larger than when the customer orders in store.
The modest investment in setting up shop through a mobile app could end up paying for itself in extra revenue. This isn’t a magic trick—you can’t just turn it on and expect orders to roll in. But do it right, and your app could be working for you even when you aren’t able to work yourself.
You’re looking for ways to be less of a store and more of a brand
Being a brand means having a personality, and an aesthetic, and connecting with your customers on a more emotional level. Yes, I said an emotional level—because a brand can create a feeling of belonging or identity in your customers. Now, simply building an app isn’t enough to make any kind of statement. Sure, it’s cool to have a branded app, but what if your brand is lame?
When the app itself is part of a greater strategy, it can be used to cultivate the kind of image you’re going for. From the look and color scheme to the written words on the screen, an app can feel like an organic extension of being in your store. If you’re creative and keep serving up fresh content, you’ll keep them coming back to the app even if they’re not looking to buy something.
You wish you had more information about your customers
Especially if you allow customers to log in to your app with social channels, you can use it to collect a lot of information about them. And I don’t mean that in a creepy way. It’s just that, between the social information they opt to share with you and the records of all their purchases—whether in-store or via the app—you can really get to know your customers very well. You can also get to know your own store very well, because using an app provides the opportunity to collect meaningful analytics, shedding light on your business in ways you just can’t get from simple observation. You can start to understand buying trends and demographic information and start adapting to this new information. This all helps to refine your business to become something that’s even more of what your customers would want.
So, does any of this ring true for you? If you’ve been thinking about things like this, and wondering about ways to make them happen, perhaps it is time to consider going mobile. Of course, you might say that all these reasons for getting an app I listed—from the need for better marketing to opening new revenue streams—should be on the list of priorities for any business. Maybe you’re right, but that’s you talking. Not me. I wouldn’t tell you how to run your business. I’m just giving you options to consider.
Ian Naylor is the founder and CEO of AppInstitute, one of the world’s leading DIY App Builders (over 70,000 apps built). Naylor has founded, grown and sold 4 successful internet and technology companies during the past 18 years around the world. He gives seminars as an expert authority on startup mobile app trends, development, and online marketing and has spoken at numerous industry events including The Great British Business Show, Venturefest, the National Achievers Congress and numerous industry exhibitions around the UK. AppInstitute regularly provides leading publications with app analytics, business data, case studies, white papers and statistics for established publishers across the world. They were named in the top 50 creative companies in England by Creative England.