Merchants seek ways to make their mobile apps indispensable

6. October 2017.

Consumers in the U.S. spend somewhere between two and four hours per day engaged with their favorite mobile apps, according to a number of studies and surveys.

Social media apps account for much of this time with services such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter leading the pack.

And while most consumers have 30 or more apps on their smartphone, they’re only using five to nine of them daily.

These consumer habits represent a challenge to almost every restaurant and retailer that either has a mobile app or is in the process of creating a proprietary one or with a third party.

The question becomes, how do you make your mobile app indispensable to not only your most loyal customers, but more casual users?

“[A mobile app] has to be built with the business objective [the company] is all working on,” Laura Reese, senior director of media, digital and public relations for Church’s Chicken, said during a panel at last week’s CONNECT: The Mobile CX Summit.

“We didn’t have a lot of data to work with [when we first launched the app]” Reese said. “You take risks. You put something out there that will add value to their day.

“We’re making sure that we’re monitoring this closely so that we know and understand it’s adding value.”

Reese’s comment about value is something even the biggest merchants take into consideration when adding new features.

Walmart took added-value into account last year when it added a payments component to its popular mobile app.

Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of Walmart Services, gave a keynote at this summit last year and said the company’s mobile payment strategy “involved mapping the customer journey from the couch to the store to the parking lot and identifying frictions points at peak shopping times and the check-out environment.”

“It’s about saving stress, time, customer pain points,” Eckert said.

And those aspects can be viewed a valuable to a consumer.

Loyalty, personalized offers and unique features another way to add stickiness to a mobile app to make it more attractive to consumers.

Back at Church’s Chicken, the app actually provides users with a curated music playlist, within the app, thanks to a partnership with PlayNetwork.

“This is providing an added value that’s unique and different,” Reese said. “There’s an instant connection there. It’s amazing the data that comes back that people are coming back to the app to listen to the music.”

On the loyalty front, a chain such as la Madeleine Country French Café wants to get its customers into higher loyalty status tiers. It does this by enticing customers to visit a location more through customized offers.

“Our job is to get them to that second status level [in loyalty],” Jordan Campbell, former digital marketing manager at la Madeleine, said during the panel. “If someone is new, we want to give them a strong offer to get them back into the store.”

As an added bonus, la Madeleine’s app shows users the amount they’ve saved from the loyalty program. That’s not a feature you’ll find everywhere.

“As a consumer, I want to know what I’m saving,” Campbell said.

Mobile ordering, which has been on the rise with restaurants in the past 18 months, also can be a way for restaurants to create a loyal app following.

For Balance Grille, a mobile app with an order-ahead feature served a dual purpose.

“Operational efficiency is the ultimate reason why we launched the app,” Prakash Karamchandani, co-founder and CEO of Balance Grille, said during the panel. “We changed our store design where we have dedicated areas for order-ahead.”

Mobile ordering was in the spotlight earlier this year when Starbucks said the feature might have hampered its earnings because of the bottleneck at the counter such orders caused for the most popular locations.

That scenario showed that while mobile ordering can increase a restaurant’s bottom line, they need to be ready to handle logistical challenges.

“I’ll be honest, [mobile ordering] has been a struggle for us,” Campbell said. “We have people use the same line for to-go orders and in-store orders. That’s something that we have to get better with.”

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