App clutter is a real thing. Recent studies by Nielsen and Forrester highlight that while Americans have a large number of apps on their phones (26+ according to Nielsen), we use a comparatively small number (5 non-native apps). The rest? Destined for the trash bins of our digital lives.
What characterizes the ones we use most? Utility and Engagement.
Google is perhaps the standard bearer here. They’ve recently confirmed that the majority of searches are coming from Mobile. According to Forrester, 12% of all app usage flows through Google. It makes sense. You’re out and about in life and when presented with a question you turn to Google for an answer. Not just an answer, but often an answer that’s actionable. Thanks to mobility, you’re often looking for information at a point when you can actually use it. It’s not for posterity. It’s for right now.
Apps like The Weather Channel are interesting as well. They take something functional and utilitarian, the weather, and make it more engaging through the use of video, non-weather but adjacent information like allergy indexes, and exciting presentation layers like interactive maps, dramatic video, and brilliant photography. Your native weather app can give you the temperature and forecast, but because TWC does it more interestingly and engagingly, many prefer it.
Similarly, Facebook (13% of all time spent with apps according to Forrester) straddles the line between what you want and need. On the want front, it provides an elegant solution for keeping in touch with friends and loved ones in a far flung, fast moving world. To take five minutes to scroll through your feed while on the train, waiting in line, or while you’re otherwise indisposed makes tens of millions feel more connected, and thus happier. But Facebook is also cropping up more and more as an answer engine. Instead of seeking an *objective* answer to common questions, Facebook is being queried more and more for subjective answers to questions. “What’s a good restaurant”, “who’s a good teacher”, “what’s a good shortcut to…” are all equal parts subjective and objective. The degree to which the Facebook app makes either path (or a fusion of the two) fun and easy, it wins more time with its customers.
Segueing from things you need to things you want, Shopping sites are increasingly applying old-fashioned Retail principles to their apps. Time honored merchant skills like proper presentation, engaging product descriptions and backstories, scarcity principles (“We’ve only got a few of these, and when they’re gone they’re gone”) are elevating the eComm category well above simple price and item. The use of video, user generated content (uploading your measurements, for example), peer reviews and such have given less feature rich sites (in terms of merchandising) like Amazon and eBay a run for their money. Whether it’s a personalized shopper like Trunk Club, custom-tailoring like the new MTailor, flash-sales apps like Rue La La, or mobile storefronts for premier retailers like Nordstrom, the bar is very high.
One commonality to those examples, and many others, is the degree to which the retailer gets to know the customer through the app. They synthesize practical data like size and budget with more esoteric concepts like taste and style to create a customer journey of interactions that make sense for both the consumer and the retailer. Most importantly, business-defining things like lifetime customer value shine through the data like beacons, enabling retailers to behave specifically with each visitor, not generally or generically.
Just as in days of old when the butcher or baker might have greeted you by name and asked if you wanted “the usual”, today’s savvy retailers leverage that first-party data to know you like a valued customer or an old friend— even though you’ve never met. In Retail, tomorrow could be too late. When a VIP steps foot in the virtual door, you’ve got to be “on” in the moment. Intelligent personalization, acquired through intelligent data collection, synthesis, and real-time decisioning mechanics, enables just that.
As the mobile wave continues to roll, it’s critical for businesses to be there not just in word, but in deed. Treat each customer like a special snowflake, or they might bring the heat elsewhere.