Shopper Experience

Mobile shopping apps: The bridge between in-store and ecommerce

In-app shopping is preferred by 31% of consumers, according to a NewStore survey.

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(Illustration by The Current)

Welcome to Data File. In this weekly feature, The Current shares key findings shaping the ecommerce landscape. At The Current, we comb industry, analyst and economic sources for the data that matters to ecommerce professionals, and include it throughout our work. This feature is one of the ways we’re sharing what we find.

When people go shopping, they may opt to look for an item online, or they may choose to head out to a store.

In either setting, chances are their mobile phone is at least nearby, if not being used directly to browse and buy.

If a brand has an app available to access on those phones, it can help to blend between two modes at a time when shoppers are returning to stores, while taking digital habits cemented during the pandemic with them.

“Ecommerce is part of the experience, in-store is a part of the experience, and a consumer app is a nice thread that ties those together,” said Nancy Darish, VP of Product Marketing at omnichannel software provider NewStore.

The approach aligns with the preferences of many shoppers. A survey of 610 US consumers by Newstore found that 31% of consumers prefer shopping in an app to shopping in a store, on a desktop or even on a mobile website. Mobile shopping apps fell just behind in-store shopping as the most popular way to shop.

At the same time, the data reveals a shift in the mobile shopping experience sought by users. During a prior era of digital adoption in retail, there was a push to optimize websites for mobile.

“What we’re finding now is that a mobile optimized website just doesn’t cut it anymore,” Darish said. “In our research, we found 60% of consumers actually prefer a consumer shopping app experience over the mobile web.”

The interest lies in standalone apps that offer an experience that is unique to a particular brand or retailer. The survey showed consumers from 18-44 were particularly likely to shop this way. They're using these apps to browse for clothing, shoes, accessories and furniture, and they're making purchases.

Note that these apps are distinct from a marketplace like Amazon. Rather, they are the kinds of offerings that might be launched by a retailer with in-store shopping like H&M or a brand with its own stores like Nike.

For brands, there are particular user experience advantages to this approach. A standalone app offers native features that a web experience often doesn’t. Darish laid out the following:

  • Access to information: As they're updated with the latest info, apps can offer specifics such as product details and inventory info about items that are available at nearby stores. Plus, users can access account info from online and offline purchases.
  • Loyalty: An app experience provides a portal for a loyalty program. This includes a place to access rewards, discounts and coupons, as well as manage a profile.
  • A seamless in-store experience: An app can help to improve the in-person shopping experience. It’s a place to scan a QR code, access a buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) order, request help from an associate or peruse a store map feature to find a specific product.
  • Exclusivity: Brands can offer specific features that are available only within an app. These include access to new products or events. Brands also offer digital interactive lookbooks to provide imagery and video about a product that complements a browsing experience.
  • Speed: Providing an easy way to navigate to a brand’s digital home is key to reducing the number of clicks it takes to get to a brand’s products. It also offers faster load times and a simple experience.

The interest and advantages are there. Encouraging adoption is the next step. The survey cited four key motivators for shoppers who use an app: promotions/discounts (51%), access to exclusive products (30%), better loyalty programs (30%), and better customer service (23%). Educating consumers that apps offer these things is an important step toward inspiring downloads.

“We have to give consumers a reason,” Darish said. “They have to understand the benefits.”

It also means confronting the reasons why consumers might not want to download an app head-on. In the survey, 43% of respondents cited not wanting to have more apps on their phone as a reason they might not download such an app.

One interesting solution for brands that’s proving to be compelling is mini-apps.

Available via Apple App Clips and Google Instant Apps, these can be offered without requiring a full app download, and are accessible by tapping an NFC tag or scanning a QR code. The survey results stated 71% of respondents were interested or very interested in using a mini-app.

“One of the reasons they’re saying they don’t want to download apps is because they’re concerned about the amount of space and about clutter on their phones,” Darish said. “This alleviates the [need] to have a lot of apps on their phone because you’re just using that one feature at that one point in time.”

Darish said it’s also important to promote an app in-store. That can include installing signage that encourages folks to use an app if they don’t see an item in store, or sign up for a loyalty program. Educating associates so they can guide customers to it is another way to offer a connecting point.

For brands, in-app shopping holds advantages not only for inspiring purchases, but also gathering key customer info and being able to attribute in-store purchases.

When it comes to a direct-to-consumer experience that many brands are building, “It’s really critical that we start to connect and get to know that consumer."

In-app shopping, she said, “is a great way to do that."

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