Mobile Apps and Your Brand, Part 1: When Should You Build an App?

This is the first of a three-part series on -- you guessed it -- mobile apps and your brand. In part one, we’re going to be taking a look at when it makes sense to build an commerce-focused mobile app, along with some best practices in the app space.

As your brand grows and matures, you might find yourself (or colleagues) asking if you need a mobile app. It’s a valid question, and while the answer is made up of a ton of different moving pieces, you can start by asking yourself the following questions:

Is your target audience Millennials and/or people below 35?

Younger consumers use mobile apps for more hours in any given day day than their older counterparts¹, which means that if your target audience is primarily or mostly Millennials, an app could work well and give your brand more facetime with your customers.

Is your target audience is an emerging market like India, where a lot of people access the Internet for the first time through mobile devices?

Unlike most mature markets, consumers in many emerging markets are getting introduced to the Internet through mobile devices rather than computers. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that 7 out of 10 mobile internet users in India are active on WhatsApp² (a popular messaging mobile app), just as one example. Other emerging markets have similarly high percentages of mobile app usage. What this means is that consumers in emerging markets are comfortable with and already actively use mobile apps for many different aspects of their lives, so adding an commerce-focused app to the mix could make sense.

Are your online sales and mobile web traffic numbers higher than average for your industry?

If you have a high volume of online sales and/or mobile traffic to your brand’s site/s, then you should seriously consider investing in an app. We’ll get to more on this later in the series, but there are several advantageous features of mobile apps not shared by websites.

Are your products items that people would frequently purchase?

For frequently purchased products, many consumers appreciate the convenience, speed, and quick purchase capabilities provided by a mobile app. Plus, having a mobile app for your brand allows you to proactively reach out with re-purchase reminders such as push notifications in a way that’s unrivaled by your commerce website.

Do any of your competitors have an app?

Of course, you shouldn’t do something just because your competitor down the street is, but if one or more of your competitors has built a mobile app, then you might want to do some more research to find out if it makes sense for your brand, too. The last thing you want is to let them have (and keep) a competitive advantage.

Yes to any or all of the above?

As with anything, there will always be exceptions -- but if you answered yes to any of those questions, then the idea of a mobile app for your brand is seriously worth considering. If that’s the case, it’s time to start familiarizing yourself with some best practices in the mobile app space. Here are high level overviews of seven best practices that we recommend following:

Thumb-friendly zone: This is probably one of the most important things to consider when designing the UI of any app. The most important buttons -- which are usually the most frequently clicked -- should be within the natural zone of thumb-friendliness. Otherwise, your app’s user experience can quickly go downhill, frustrating your users and causing them to stop using the app.

Thumb-friendliness across devices of different sizes. Original graphic credit goes to Scott Hurff³.

Minimized/Optimized Images: Having correctly sized and optimized images means that the app will load quickly on all mobile devices, even when your users have weak internet connections.

Progress Bars: Never keep your users waiting without visual clues. Always show a progress bar to let the users know that the app is working and to give them an idea of how far along the progress is, how long they will have to wait, etc.

Security: This is a given, but you need to take every step possible to always keep the users’ data secure. Nobody will trust an app that can't keep their data secure.

Uncluttered, Consistent UI: Never give the user too much on the screen to see. Keep the UI simple. Also, keep the UI consistent across the app and build a brand for the UI, so that whenever the user sees the UI, he or she immediately recognizes it as your app.

Add to Cart: Always display the “Add to Cart” button prominently wherever necessary. Done correctly, this will lead to higher conversion rates.

Navigate to Cart: Display a “Navigate to Cart” button throughout the app, making it easy for the user to quickly go to the cart and checkout (again, leading to more conversions).

Allow Users to Save/Favorite Products: Always give users the option to save or favorite products. You can use the data from saved/favorited products to learn more about your customers’ interests and behaviors. And more importantly, it gives the user a chance to come back and quickly purchase saved items.

Along with best practices, here are some other key elements that you’re not going to want to forget when building an commerce-focused mobile app:

Ready to develop your mobile app, or just want to investigate the idea a little further? We’d love to hear from you.