App store: over 1.2 million apps, Google Play: over 1.3 million apps

Exploring the App Question

I’m guessing you’ve heard the phrase “There’s an app for that”. It refers to, of course, the vast number of smartphone apps in the app marketplace. In fact, at a recent American Advertising Federation of Kansas City event, I heard John Kreicbergs talk about mobile apps and he mentioned a staggering stat: The Apple Store has 1.2 million apps in it and the Google Play marketplace has 1.3 million apps in it. That’s simply astounding. Yet, these numbers, and the attention apps have warranted in the last few years makes this question I get asked quite often make more sense: “Can you help me build an app?” The answer is certainly yes. I know app builders. The better questions though are “Do you need one?” and “Do you have the infrastructure to support it?”

Companies in a variety of different industries are assessing smartphone apps for a variety of reasons. The commonality all these companies have though is that before the app is created, the objectives for its creation must be determined. Without a clear strategy outlining what the app contains, and how the app will provide value to the end user, the app is doomed to sit, as so many apps do, lost in the app marketplace.

For grocery, the Food Marketing Institute recently published a study illuminating what food retailers need to know about grocery apps. Not surprisingly, the most desired features in grocery apps allow the consumers the ability to find coupons and create a shopping list. Those two pieces right there bring to light the fundamental wants consumers have when it comes to shopping for food: good deals and convenience. But those two things also have to be broken apart further because they have layers of complexity woven into them.

Take coupons for example. In the majority of grocery stores, especially independent ones, coupons are still very much of the paper variety. This alone becomes problematic for the retailer because for the coupon to be on a mobile device, it must be digital. As digital, it must either be read directly by the front-end system from the phone (warranting the need for upgraded scanners) or be loaded to a loyalty program identifier and directly applied to the account. In both instances, the desire for an app is tied to the need for upgraded infrastructure.

Then take the second desired feature: shopping list creation. If you really ask consumers what they want that shopping list feature to look like, they’ll say they want to be able to make the shopping list from the weekly circular or from recipes. To achieve that feat, the weekly circular must be digital, and ideally, clickable so consumers can quickly ad sale items to their list. The recipes must also include a feature to select items directly from the recipe and bulk-add to the list.

With only two seemingly simple app features called out so far, you can see how the building of an app can get complicated quickly. The features sound easy, yet the infrastructure necessary to deliver on those simple requests becomes much more difficult. Now taking into consideration the other features that consumers desire: loyalty card integration, shopping history, social functionality & interactive store maps, app building just gets down right expensive.

None of this means it shouldn’t, or can’t, be done though. Our first suggestion to retailers wanting to get an app is to take a look at their website and ask these questions:

  • How many website views are from mobile devices? If the view rate is high, we know there are lots of customers searching on the go.
  • Is the website mobile responsive? Bottom line is that when customers are looking for information these days they go to Google. If the website isn’t mobile responsive, the consumers will have a hard time finding what they are looking for in a broader scope. Start there, then once that is done and consumers are enjoying the mobile experience, an app can be more deeply considered.
  • How are you going to get consumers to download the app? Kreicbergs mentioned that the average number of apps on a person’s phone is 42 and yet 25% of the people who download an app never use it. You don’t want people to download the app, you want people to use it. What’s the value proposition to make that happen, and to make them come back.

If we’ve determined that the answers to the above questions shake out favorably, our suggestion then is to base the mobile app experience as much on the website functionality as possible. First, it helps with the second feature listed above: shopping list creation. If the website is built with the digital circular and recipes in mind, the app becomes extremely useful and will be a shopper’s companion. Second, the rest of the features laid out on the website then tie into the mobile experience as well, easing the building and update processes necessary.

Mobile apps are indeed popular, there is no getting around that. They will continue to grow in importance, but with that, consumers will continue to demand better functionality and experience from the app, and thus, the retailer. With that in mind, Kreicbergs’ last slide brings everything home. It states: “Know the technology and what it can and can’t do. Nothing can overcome a poor experience or story”. That statement is absolutely true, and broken down in this context means: apps are great, but only great when they enhance the shopping experience. Retailers must focus on having a great shopping experience first.  Slide showing characters of wizard of oz looking behind curtain: Says Know what the tech can and can'd do. Nothing can overcome a poor experience or story.


The images above belong to John Kreicbergs and were part of his presentation for the AAFKC December Wednesday Accelerations breakfast. For the slideshare of the entire AAFKC presentation go here.




Why do I work at AWG? “I value the opportunity to work with family businesses. My dad owned his own business for 35 years, so it is what I know and cherish. Plus, I love food, so thinking about it everyday is a huge plus.” -Kate