With online buyers spending more time purchasing through mobile apps, companies need to develop apps that help customers. Mike O’Shea, senior vice president of ecommerce at foodservice parts distributor Parts Town, lays out four critical steps for doing that.

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Mike O’Shea

To meet the needs of the modern mobile customer, companies must continually challenge themselves to make the customer experience easier, faster, and more enjoyable. Mobile apps help alleviate the usability challenges mobile-optimized websites present to customers, enabling them to better retain context and utilize device features more readily.:

When creating an app, companies must coordinate across all business units to ensure a holistic solution that revolves around the customer.

Businesses of all kinds can benefit from what mobile apps bring to the table from a customer usability perspective. However, the products and services a company provides—combined with the unique challenges faced by their customers—can have a significant impact on the ways a mobile app can make customers’ lives easier.

Mobile app development is especially important when you consider that recent research has found 90% of an average user’s mobile time is spent in apps, with only 10% of their time spent browsing the rest of the internet. Customers are also spending far more time shopping from mobile apps (201.8 minutes per month) than mobile websites (just 10.9 minutes per month). Considering these trends, it’s no surprise that 40.4% of all users buy more of a brand’s goods after downloading its ecommerce app.

Before taking the leap into developing your own app to take advantage of these user trends, here are four considerations every company should make before going mobile:

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1—Identifying Problems and Evaluating Solutions

Before investing time and money in design and development, organizations should conduct a crystal clear and honest evaluation of the problem(s) it’s attempting to solve and determine whether an app is truly the best solution. Some issues can simply be resolved through a process change or another lower-cost alternative that works just as well to meet customer needs.

2—Taking a Customer-Centric Approach

Successful apps come from the union of customer needs and technology solutions. If an app is determined to be the best path for meeting the customers’ needs, approaching the development in a customer-centric way enables companies to create clear solutions to the identified problems.

When creating an app, companies must coordinate across all business units to ensure a holistic solution that revolves around the customer. These business units could include product development, user experience, customer service, and marketing, among others. A strong product management team can help ensure the right teams are involved and the company stays customer-centric in what it’s trying to build.

3—Marketing Your App

Just because you build an app doesn’t mean customers are guaranteed to discover and download it. Often, the most overlooked aspect of launching a commercially successful app is how the app will be marketed. Mobile app marketing is more challenging than traditional ecommerce because search engines don’t send organic search traffic to apps as they do a website. There is also an upfront effort required for the customer to install your app that isn’t necessary for a website.

Marketing challenges can be overcome through targeted and timely merchandising of the app. For example, you can drive traffic to your app by including a call-to-action on your order confirmation. Some retailers offer to text a link to the app in the App Store or Google Play store so customers can quickly download the app and get immediate value by receiving shipment notifications and updates. Making it easy to download the app and focusing on the unique benefits it delivers can increase customer adoption dramatically.

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4—Evaluate the Pros and Cons of Outsourcing

Whether companies should internally build or outsource their mobile apps depends on the size and sophistication of the business. Investing and building an app internally makes the most sense when the app and technology solutions are a core competency in the company.

For small companies (or larger companies that don’t already have an established internal development team), outsourcing to a trusted partner is the fastest way to market. Companies can support the app internally once it has proven value for customers and additional investment is warranted. If companies are not sure which route is best for their app, there are many contractors that can outsource certain portions of the project while the company handles others internally.

So, What Are You Waiting For?

If you’ve been on the fence, there’s no time like the present for taking the plunge and investing in a mobile app. They serve a clear purpose in our increasingly mobile world and will continue to expand throughout the coming years. Chances are, if you don’t offer your customers the convenience of shopping via an app, your competitors almost certainly will. The key is to find the problems your customers face that could be best solved via a mobile app, and then develop an approach that makes the most sense to meet those needs.

Mike O’Shea is the World Wide Web Wise Guy (and senior vice president of ecommerce) at Parts Town, a distributor of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) foodservice equipment parts. He is responsible for driving growth through customer-facing and back-office technology, such as the Parts Town App for researching and ordering parts.

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