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There’s no challenge getting retail consumers on board with mobile devices and apps. But getting that same consumer to embrace and forge a relationship with a branded mobile app? Well, that’s not so easy.

While 84 percent of shoppers are using their smartphone for retail shopping purposes, retailers are facing more than a few hurdles when it comes to downloads of a branded app.

One big reason, according to Amitaabh Malhotra, CMO at OmnyPay, is that many retailers are “re-skinning” the once favored desktop website into an app – and that’s a big no-no.

“In fact, a lot of retailers went ahead and created non-native/hybrid apps, which were essentially a web page popping up inside an app. The user experience offered by these hybrid apps on the small mobile screen is not only awkward and clumsy, but almost unusable in some cases,” explained Malhotra in an interview with Retail Customer Experience.

“It is a quick turn off for a new user, and they are likely to never try using that app again after initially struggling to use it,” he added.

Where the mobile app fits into the customer experience

Retailers need to understand the brand app is an extension of the retailer’s brand and the overall experience. It’s no longer the situation where a consumer is either on the PC and browsing the retailer’s storefront or having a physical store interaction.

“Mobile has blurred that line,” said Malhotra.

Today’s shoppers, he noted, can be in the physical store while simultaneously interacting with the brand or retailer in an online channel via a mobile device.

That’s why retailers need to advance to full native apps featuring a rich user interface and designed specifically for the mobile screen. The app must also leverage capabilities such as location and contextual awareness and capabilities of the device, such as a camera and touchscreen.

“These are core features of modern day mobile devices that can not only create new interaction channels for the shopper, but also make their shopping journey more convenient and interesting,” said Malhotra. “Most successful mobile apps are able to take advantage of these mobile device features within their apps to offer up completely new experiences and use cases to their shoppers that would otherwise not be possible.”

App development strategy: Which way to go

When it comes to app development the question for retailers isn’t whether to build it or buy it, or build and then rebuild.
The focus, said Malhotra, should be on providing a relevant “utility” that comes with a short learning curve.

“The issue with getting something built and build from there is that, more often than not, your app and experience ends up looking a lot like your competitors — since a lot of the app development houses have set templates for their app designs,” he explained, noting that’s a prime reason many retailer apps are very similar.

“This goes against the basic tenets of retail branding — where each brand offers a unique kind of differentiation to their shopper when compared against the competition,” he added. He advises a strategy that features a hefty app design at the start and ensuring the design aligns with the core brand identity. It should act as an extension of the brand interaction experience, he said.

Tips for driving app adoption, loyalty

To ensure a successful brand app that resonates with consumers, retailers need to ask themselves two big questions, said Malhotra.

The first is: How is the app being marketed?

“This is an important question to ask. There needs to be constant messaging across channels that not only conveys the availability of the retailer app but also the various features of the app that the shopper can avail, and which would likely make their shopping experience more pleasant,” said Malhotra.

The second question is a follow-on to the first: What are the key value added features the app offers, and how well are those communicated within the retailer’s own organization?

“Most of the time, the shopper gets to interact with the store associate only at checkout. Are the associates trained to inform the shopper about the app and its benefits? Are they incentivized to talk up the mobile benefits and how it not only makes shopping more pleasant, but could also save the shopper time and money? Can they direct the shopper on how to get the app set up really quick?” said Malhotra.

And, as noted earlier in his comments, Malhotra reiterated that retailers must leverage modern mobile device capabilities with the full native app.

“Think in terms of real-time systems and utilize mobile devices and apps to eliminate a lot of the manual processes associated with a shopper’s journey, such as coupons, rewards, price checks, payments, returns, forms, applications, etc.,” he said.

Image courtesy of iStock.

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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