Most top retailers with apps do not deep link e-mail and ads to their apps, and are missing sales as a result, a study shows. That’s not terribly surprising to the marketing chief at JackThreads, one of the most progressive retailers in mobile commerce.

JackThreads recently started using deep links in its e-mail marketing messages, and as a result, the web-only retailer has seen a 21% rise in revenue per e-mail for customers who have downloaded its mobile commerce app. That’s a very good thing, since 45% of the merchant’s total sales (not total mobile sales, but total sales) come through its universal Apple iOS and universal Android apps, which the merchant says all retailers, not just big retailers or retailers with extremely mobile consumers, need to have.

So what is deep linking? It’s the technique of sending a consumer on a smartphone or tablet from an e-mail or web ad not to a mobile web site page but to a page within a mobile app they already have downloaded. So, using JackThreads as an example, an e-mail sniffs a device to see if that consumer has the JackThreads app on his mobile device. If he does have the app, and he touches on a product promotion in the e-mail, the e-mail closes the e-mail app and opens the JackThreads app and sends him directly to that product promotion page within the app.

This is important because usually e-mail and ads link mobile users to a page on a mobile web site. Mobile web sites simply are not yet able to provide the richness, depth and power of mobile apps. As a result, at JackThreads, for instance, the conversion rate for the e-retailer’s universal Apple iOS app is three times greater than the conversion rate for the merchant’s mobile web site on Apple mobile devices, says Ryan McIntyre, executive vice president of marketing at Thrillist Media Group, which owns JackThreads, No. 175 in the 2015 Internet Retailer Mobile 500. The latest edition of the Mobile 500 will be published August 19.

“Largely it is about the mobile shopping experience and the speed with which a transaction happens in an app versus a mobile web site,” McIntyre says. “You can securely store customer information within an app and use the full power of the mobile device rather than being limited to the full power of a mobile web browser. The smoothness of page transitions we can program into an app is tremendous, where the speed of getting from page 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 is far faster in the app.”

To deep link, a retailer must code its apps in a way that includes what amounts to URL addresses for each page within an app, so an e-mail or web ad knows where to go. For example, a product page on a mobile web site might be identified as, while in an app that page would be identified as RetailerApp://shirts/product67. That, however, is a rather simplistic description of a process that developers say can be a challenge for many companies.


82% of the top 50 e-retailers in the 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide with both an Apple iOS app and an Android app have apps that are not compatible with deep linking, Pure Oxygen Labs LLC revealed to Internet Retailer last week. Pure Oxygen Labs is a mobile marketing and mobile search engine optimization firm. Of the 50 merchants, three have iOS and Android apps that are completely compatible with deep linking. These merchants are Etsy, Groupon and JackThreads.

McIntyre is not terribly surprised by those findings.

“A lot of people in the industry say they are mobile-first and say they recognize the trend is mobile, but they are paralyzed in old habits of focusing on their ‘big web’ experience, and old habits die hard,” McIntyre says. “Deep linking is not super-easy, it takes some technical expertise that perhaps many of these retailers do not have in-house. Also, a lot of these companies force all of their ‘big web’ features into the mobile app experience, which is the wrong way to do it. You have to pick and choose what your mobile shoppers need most. There still is a lag in sophistication around real mobile commerce.”

Think you don’t need to worry about deep linking because you do not have an app? Think again, McIntyre cautions, saying that apps are not just for big retailers or for merchants with a demographic that is highly mobile, like JackThreads’s young male shoppers.


“Until the mobile web experience becomes something that feels much more like  an app, and works as quickly as an app, apps will be very important to mobile commerce,” he says. “Not to mention that with an app you are in your customer’s pocket at all times, on the screens of their phones, a reminder to come back and check us out. And with deep linking you suddenly have multiple channels to send customers back into your app, which, for us, has been a great channel for distribution, sales and retention.”

Follow Bill Siwicki, editor of the 2015 Internet Retailer Mobile 500 and managing editor, mobile commerce, at Internet Retailer, at @IRmcommerce.