Matt Alexander was hesitant about launching an app.
The founder and CEO of startup web retailer ImprintEdition.com knew most consumers don’t have the inclination to download a store app to their smartphones.
For Imprint, a nearly 3-year-old web-only retailer of men’s lifestyle products, such as apparel, furniture and coffee, Alexander wasn’t sure an app would work. But he decided to launch an app after seeing that more than 55% of Imprint’s web traffic stems from mobile devices and knowing how important mobile is to his target customer (men ages 26-34 living in metropolitan areas).
It was a winner out of the gate. In the first month of launching the app last April, 79% of Imprint’s transactions were made in app, and the Dallas-based retailer attained profitability this summer, Alexander says, as the app helped generate a roughly five-fold increase in sales. While April’s level of app was not sustained, Imprint still received an average 57% of its orders from the app in the four months following its introduction. Alexander expects app sales to fluctuate as Imprint releases new collections.
It took about six months to develop the app with software developer Oven Bits LLC. Alexander did not disclose the cost of the app. Oven Bits typically prices apps with an upfront cost, usually $100,000 and up—and then a monthly fee that fluctuates with the success of the app, says Dave Onkels, technical product manager at Oven Bits.
Imprint is what Alexander calls a “hybrid retailer” as it marries commerce and editorial content. Each month Imprint releases a new collection of about 10 or 20 men’s products. The retailer has a limited supply and typically sells out until its next collection release the following month. This scarcity aspect is important for Imprint because it engenders a sense of demand and expectation, Alexander says.
Imprint then displays the products with several large images and paragraphs describing each item. For example, for a pair of shorts Imprint recently sold, the description began, “Shorts are hit or miss. Many pairs on the market will make you look like a European schoolboy who’s gone through an unfortunate growth spurt. Some, though, can be flattering, comfortable, and possibly even maybe sometimes sophisticated. The Perf Scout Shorts fall in the latter category. …”
Imprint has raised about $2 million in funding, Alexander says. The company called itself Need when it was launched in November 2013, but as the retailer grew and expanded into 44 countries, Alexander decided it needed a less generic name. The company adopted the Imprint brand at the same time it launched the app in April.
Currently, the app has 65,000 downloads and Imprint has a total of about 434,000 users. Alexander says 63% of Imprint’s shoppers are repeat shoppers. In 2015, Imprint’s sales were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For 2016, the retailer is on track to do five or six times that, with sales into the millions, a growth rate that Alexander attributes to the new app.
Alexander says the app’s success is due to several factors: First, the retailer created a universal iOS app, meaning it works on both iPads and iPhones, a feature that makes it visible and downloaded by more consumers.
Apple Pay is also a huge driver for the app, as 93% of the app’s transactions are made via the mobile payment button. The payment method lets shoppers check out quickly and removes barriers, such as filling in multiple fields and waiting for pages to load, Alexander says.
Imprint also is careful about how often it emails consumers or sends push notifications. For example, the retailer typically only sends a marketing message when it debuts a new collection each month.
“People hate email from retailers and it’s one of the biggest pitfalls,” Alexander says. While Imprint does see a bump in traffic, conversion rate and revenue every time it sends an email, he says he doesn’t want to increase the number of emails Imprint sends because he believes the brand’s customer satisfaction rate will take a hit.
Imprint’s in-app customer service also contributes to the app’s success, Alexander says. A consumer can chat with any of Imprint’s four employees for help with an order or style advice. A shopper asks for advice on an outfit, such as, “What should I wear if I’m speaking at a conference?” and an Imprint employee sends back a link to products in the app. Such interaction almost always leads to a sale, Alexander says.
While the iOS app is a huge success for Imprint, an Android app is not a priority right now, Alexander says. A minimal amount of the retailer’s mobile web traffic stems from the operating system for Android devices, he says.