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The New Value Case for Mobile Apps: A Foundation for Immersive Commerce

By Dave Nickens, Mobile Director, Build.com

Dave Nickens, Mobile Director, Build.com

Over the last several years there has been much debate around Mobile Apps. Should we have one? What level of investment should we make? For this discussion, let’s focus on native apps, consumer expectations, and the intersection of emerging technologies.

Having an “App for that” is now required

It’s common sense to be where your customers and competitors are. App downloads recently hit the 25 billion milestone, growing 15 percent yearly. Time spent in mobile browsers is decreasing monthly. According to App Annie, consumer app store spend has doubled in the last two years reaching $86 billion in 2017. On average, smartphone users have 80 apps installed on their phone and use around 40 per month. Most users see your app as the easiest way to interact with your brand. If your app experience is not the most efficient and simplest way to engage, you risk rejection. This presents itself as low app rating in the stores.

At Build.com, we are starting to observe a new generation of affluent and mobile savvy homeowners, designers, contractors, and trade professionals who start their search in the app stores. Their search terms are more generic like “Home Improvement” vs. “Farmhouse Sink” or “ + .” Pre app launch in 2016, we had no chance to acquire those customers. We are now able to compete in this market. Bottom line—more users are searching completely outside of the traditional mobile web browser search experience.

"We are starting to observe a new generation of affluent and mobile savvy professionals who start their search in the app stores"

There are segments of your user population that demand a direct relationship with your brand. They equate the app to a starting point. An app opens new opportunities to connect with your most loyal customers and create a strong first impression for new customers.

A good indicator of brand loyalty in Mobile Web is the frequency of typed bookmark user visits per month. These users know who you are and must use a bookmark or tap in your URL to visit again.

Code Once

On the implementation side—and with emerging code languages like React Native (RN), started by Facebook— development teams can work faster to deliver app functionality. For RN this means code once and deploy to both iOS and Android apps at once with limited UX edits to customize per platform.

Apps are becoming more about how well you can manage a relationship (two-way conversation) with your best customers. Push notifications, if done right, can be a trigger for key actions you would like customers to take. Business chat (B2C) is moving some app-first companies away from the traditional web checkout concept and more toward “Conversational Commerce” (i.e. chat checkout). Regardless if the customer is having a human or AI interaction, this is a trend that customers will come to expect as more progressive app-first companies are adopted.

Customer Expectations and Emerging Technology

Your most valuable customers will have your app. Most companies see 3X conversion rates, double the AOV, and 4X customer LTV through the app experience. To keep them engaged takes a great feedback loop, research, and continued innovation.

As one of the largest home improvement goods retailers, Build.com knows that success is achieved by putting the customer first. But, because we’re an online-only store, it is difficult for a customer to make a purchase decision without the “touch-and-feel” aspect of a physical shopping experience. Just how many of the senses are you able to appeal to through a purely digital interaction?

Just like many ecommerce companies, we have been waiting for Augmented Reality (AR) to mature. AR is not a new concept, however Apple’s launch with iOS 11 was a noteworthy improvement. For the first time, a large majority of the apple iPhone population (6s and above) were reachable. Augmented Reality now accurately reflects the quality of the products we offer. To take full advantage of this emerging technology, we had to have, at minimum, an iOS app and active user community. With our growing app platform, were positioned to innovate.

Google made great strides with Tango and is now is now in beta testing, showing off ARCore—a way to implement AR for Android. This is another huge unlock as it will be accessible to most Android Users.

2D to 3D Turning Point for eCommerce

Immersive commerce experiences like AR will follow the rails of the more established gaming industry. The gap is 3D product models that are accurate to the items you sell. Focus for the near future will be around converting 2D product images and specifications into 3D models. For more complex product sales, this is a transition from “tell me” (think spec sheets and product descriptions) to “show me” with AR, virtual reality, and the very new interactive (6 degrees of freedom) video.

Yes, the digital goods race for ecommerce has started. How can you immerse a tech savvy customer into a deep interactive shopping session that answers their product selection questions? How can you visualize examples of service offerings?

In the growing world of metadata, connected devices and environments, it is becoming easier to see how a fully connected experience could work. With the plans for 5G coming in 2020, Qualcomm researchers and others are now describing AR as the killer app / use case.

Final Thoughts

As a business leader take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The world of shopping is changing. Your company is at a disadvantage if you do not offer an app for your best customers. Soon, “Immersive Commerce” will be here and will scale with the rollout of 5G.