When Blue Apron Inc. launched in 2012, it knew mobile would be an important part of its strategy, says Ilia Papas, Blue Apron’s chief technology officer.

The web-only seller of make-at-home meals has long had a mobile-optimized site, however, it wasn’t until July 2015 that it debuted its iOS app. Blue Apron delivers the ingredients for three meals, that will serve either two or a family, and charges about $10 per person per meal. Before launching an app, Blue Apron wanted to ensure that it had the technology, back-end logistics and engineering team in place to manage effectively its PC and mobile sites before adding another platform to manage, Papas says.

Blue Apron was waiting to start app development, “once we got our core systems in place and we met the base needs of our customers,” Papas says.

Blue Apron began working on its app in early 2015 once it deemed its technology and team was ready and also because its customers were asking for one and traffic to its mobile site was growing rapidly, Papas says.

Blue Apron developed the app in-house and with the help of mobile technology vendor Mobispoke, which has since been acquired by technology vendor Kurt Salmon Digital, Papas says. It took the e-retailer and the vendor about five months to develop the app. Papas would not disclose the cost. Blue Apron’s mobile team consists of five people, a mobile product manager, three engineers and a designer, Papas says.

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About year after launch, approximately 30% of Blue Apron’s customers use the app on a monthly basis, Papas says. Also, Blue Apron’s app customers are more engaged with the brand than non-app users, says Papas.

App downloads got a boost after Apple named Blue Apron’s app one of the 25 best apps of 2015 in the U.S., he says.

Since Blue Apron, No. 231 2016 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, is mostly a subscription service, consumers don’t use the Blue Apron app to search and browse for new products as they might in a typical retail app. Instead, Blue Apron app users use the app to quickly order their next shipment of meals, to watch demonstration videos, and to look at products that would enhance cooking a certain meal, such as a heavy duty, non-stick cooking pan, or a handmade chef’s knife, Papas says. The app is a way to feature these components, which are not as prominent on the website, he says.

The most popular features in the app include viewing recipes, account management, such as ordering another week of meals, and videos on how to prepare meals, Papas says. For example, consumers could watch a 30-second demonstration video on how to chop herbs. Another popular feature is the photo filters and effects, Papas says. One of Blue Apron’s app-only features makes use of the smartphone’s camera to help consumers take alluring shot of their meals that they can share with others. Cooks are encouraged to take a picture of their finished dish and share it via social media. The consumer can then apply one of Blue Apron’s filter enhancements to the photo, such as animated steam, when she shares it on social media.

Typically, app users are a retailer’s most loyal customers. But about 25% of Blue Apron’s app users aren’t customers at all.

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A consumer doesn’t have to be a Blue Apron customer to download the free app, and many non-customers download the app for the roughly 1,000 recipes it contains, Papas says. That’s all right with him, as he hopes the app can help to turn some of those foodies into subscribers.

“The app is a channel to acquire new customers, a channel to engage with our product and order more frequently,” he says.

Half of Blue Apron’s website traffic stems from mobile devices, Papas says. Most of that traffic comes from iOS devices, which is why the retailer decided to start with an iOS app, he says. Android customers are requesting an app, and Blue Apron is discussing adding one, but has not made a decision on that, Papas says.

 

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