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App power – a personal shopping assistant in every pocket

As mobile and smartphone use soars, Drapers looks at how retail apps are evolving to capture the spend of increasingly app-centric consumers.

The age of the app is dawning on the high street. The number of smartphone users in the world continues to rise – Ericsson predicts there will be 6 billion smartphone subscriptions by 2022 – and the use of apps is rocketing.

Very app 1

Very app

Very Assistant allows customers to check their credit accounts

Recent research from app insight company App Annie found that 51 minutes in every hour spent on mobile internet are now spent on apps. For retailers, apps have the potential to revolutionise the etail and retail environments, creating a personal shopping assistant in every pocket.

As Paul Barnes, northern Europe and Middle East territory director at App Annie, explains, apps present a huge opportunity for retailers: “Apps have become the screen of choice for consumers,” he says. “It’s personalised, it’s an easy user experience and it’s very convenient. The opportunity to provide better user experience is there in an app in a way that it will never be in mobile web.”

Daniela Walker, insight editor at innovation research company LS:N Global, says retailers must now create apps that capitalise on these opportunities: “The ultimate requirement from an app is convenience. Consumers have little time and space on their phones for apps that don’t provide much of a benefit. The app needs to make the shopping experience even more seamless than it is on the web or mobile experience, and offer extra benefits.”

Mainstream etailer Very is aiming to deliver this slick, personal service to consumers. In early November, it launched a new feature called Very Assistant to its app. It works like a chatbot, answering customer account queries in a WhatsApp-style function.

The assistant aims to make the app a one-stop shop for the consumer, helping to build brand loyalty.

“We see mobile web as the channel through which customers will first discover us, typically the channel via which customers will become a customer and make the first couple of purchases,” says Paul Hornby, head of ecommerce at Very’s parent company Shop Direct. “As our customer starts to value us more and become more loyal, we see her downloading the app, and that is the environment through which we see her really become a loyal customer.”

In the longer term, the Very app will increase its focus on personalised, responsive content.

“We do believe that an artificial intelligence-driven natural language chat bot can go even further and go as far as democratising the personal shopper,” explains Hornby. “Why should top-notch personalised service be restricted to those who can afford to shop on London’s Bond Street? It is a long-term vision, but it’s one that we really believe in.”

Although pureplay etailers are naturally suited to the app environment, so-called “bricks-and-clicks” retailers are also employing them to drive brand loyalty and user experience, using the combination of in-store and app to create seamless omnichannel experiences.

“It’s about leveraging the strength they have and trying to make the experience more seamless,” says Barnes. “That’s where bricks-and-clicks has an advantage.”

By integrating in store and app features, retailers are aiming to shift the way consumers shop, and drive footfall to stores. “One of the best places to harness consumer use of apps is in-store – incentivising people to enter and buy,” explains Walker. 

An example of this is US department store chain Nordstrom, which has introduced an enhanced click-and-collect style service to its app as part of a bid to provide a “seamless experience across all channels”. The “Shop it. Try it. Buy it,” function, which launched last month, allows users to buy items on the app, and as little as two hours later, visit their local Nordstrom store, where their items will be set aside to be tried on. When customers arrive in store, their items are waiting for them in a changing room with their name on the door. This drives customers in store, increasing the chance of them buying additional items while visiting.

Primark keyboard

Primark keyboard

Nowadays, retailers are not just using their own apps being used to grab shoppers’ attentions, but are working with others in an attempt to capture some of the visibility they provide. In November, Primark, a retailer without an ecommerce site or app, launched a Christmas emoji keyboard on Facebook’s messenger app.

Olly Rzysko, head of comms at Primark describes the keyboard as putting Primark “at the heart” of consumers’ messenger interactions: “For us, the keyboard app is an extension of the dialogue between brands and consumers.”

Similarly, John Lewis’s Christmas ad “Buster the Boxer”, was accompanied by a themed Snapchat filter, and New Look also launched a filter as part of its #angelsxrobots campaign, giving both retailers visibility within the valuable space on customers’ mobile devices.

Apps offer expanded opportunities for both online and physical stores, and their potential is not yet being fully explored. As retailers focus more on their apps, and functionality becomes ever more sophisticated, the platform could shift the way consumers interact with retailers, both online and in store.

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