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How to Build the Best Retail App for Your Business

June 11, 2020
Roie Raitses
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Should your business offer a retail mobile app? Consider this: The average U.S. consumer opens a mobile retail application 22 times a month, totaling 60 billion sessions in 2018.  

Mobile retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. are projected to reach $339.03 billion in 2020. A survey by Aruba and Hewlett Packard Enterprise found that 86% of the respondents use a retail app and 59% do so up to 5 times a week.

Today, consumers have become increasingly comfortable with searching for products and making purchases on their mobile devices. Whether you're a brick-and-mortar, click-and-mortar or pure-play online retailer, the rise of mobile retail store apps is a trend you can't afford to ignore. 

What's a Retail Mobile App?

A retail app is an application that consumers install on their mobile devices to facilitate their in-store and digital shopping experiences. It allows users to:

  • Make online purchases
  • Check in-store product availability
  • Order items for in-store pick-up or delivery
  • Receive push notifications 
  • Get special offers specific to their locations
  • Manage their accounts
  • Participate in a loyalty program

Compared with a mobile website, a retail app is often faster and allows for more personalization. You also can leverage mobile-specific features (e.g., cameras, contact list, GPS, phone, accelerometer and compass) to add interactivity and enhance the user experience. 

The Benefits of Having a Retail App for Your Business

A mobile app provides retailers the opportunities to improve the shopping experience, reduce friction in the purchasing process and interact with customers creatively. Here's how a mobile retail app can benefit your business:

  • Capture consumers who are spending more time on their mobile devices
  • Build customer relationships and stay top of mind
  • Improve customer experience and reduce friction in the purchasing process to increase sales
  • Increase customer retention and loyalty
  • Provide pre- and post-sales support to improve conversion and customer satisfaction
  • Offer an omnichannel customer experience by bridging online and offline interactions
  • Leverage analytics to respond to market trends and meet consumer expectations
  • Reduce the cost of producing sales materials, such as print catalogs

How a Retail Mobile App Helps Increase Sales

Having a mobile retail application can help you attract and retain more customers. Here's how an app can help generate more sales:

1. Reach More Prospects

On average, Americans check their phones once every 12 minutes. Online publisher Smart Insights, citing data from Yahoo's Flurry analytics, reports that U.S. consumers spend 90% of the time on their mobile devices interacting with apps. In addition, a survey by The Manifest found that 21% of millennials open an app more than 50 times a day.

Having your app available in the app store helps increase exposure to potential customers and gives you the opportunity to build brand awareness as consumers download the app, interact with your content and see your notifications.

2. Build Customer Relationships

Your mobile app can do more than support e-commerce and process transactions. It can help you stay top of mind and cultivate relationships with your audience by sharing valuable content or offering useful tools.

You also can use geofencing technology to deliver location-specific information or offers while combining personalization technologies with push notifications to make sure the right message reaches the right people at the right time.

3. Improve Customer Experience

About 57% of respondents in the Aruba-Hewlett Packard Enterprise study prefer to find information using a mobile app instead of interacting with a sales associate. Meanwhile, a chat or messaging feature on a retail app allows you to provide real-time customer support and increase customer satisfaction.

You also can use mobile-specific features such as auto-fill, location services and tap-to-call to streamline the user experience and reduce friction in the buying process to increase conversion rates.

4. Increase Customer Retention

A mobile retail app is a great platform for providing post-sale support to help improve customer communication and customer satisfaction so you can increase retention rates. 

You can leverage user data such as browsing patterns, purchasing history, preferences, location and demographic information to deliver a personalized shopping experience that'll help increase sales.

5. Increase Customer Loyalty

It’s often less costly to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. Indeed, loyal customers are more likely to buy from you again and tend to spend more.  A loyalty program is effective for customer retention and a retail mobile app can help you engage members.

For example, customers can track their rewards, get notified about upcoming deals and redeem their rewards right inside the app for a seamless experience that'll entice them to stick with your brand.

6. Enhance the In-Store Experience

A mobile retail app can help facilitate customers' in-store experience and increase sales. For example, the app allows users to check a product’s in-store availability, locate an item within a store, navigate the store, view current pricing and place orders for pick-up.’s app allows users to check a product’s in-store availability, locate an item within a store, navigate the store, view current pricing and place orders for pick-up.

In addition, you can use beacon technology to send special promotions to shoppers nearby and drive foot traffic to your store. You also can combine digital content with in-store offers to deliver a multichannel experience that'll increase engagement.

7. Offer Multiple Payment Options

Customers are more likely to make a purchase and shop more frequently if you make it easy for them to pay with their preferred payment methods. A retail app allows you to streamline the transaction process while offering more payment options to your customers.  

With mobile payment integration, customers can enter credit card information into the app and pay for products in a store using their smartphones. You can also offer mobile payment options such as payment by text, direct mobile billing, online wallets, Quick Response (QR) code payment, contactless near-field communication, cloud-based mobile payment and audio signal mobile payment to meet customer needs.

8. Collect Customer Data

You can collect and analyze a large amount of customer information from your retail mobile app to make data-driven decisions in real-time. This helps you respond effectively to fast-changing customer demands and market trends.

Such data can help you gain insights into the not-so-obvious needs of customers based on how they interact with your content by using event-based analytics tools that analyze user behaviors. You can then deliver a highly personalized shopping experience that'll increase conversion rates.  

How to Create a Retail App

Here are some key steps for developing a mobile retail app to ensure that it meets your customer demands while achieving your business objectives:

  1. Determine your audience and gather information about them, including demographic data, locations, preferences and expectations.
  2. Identify your business objectives and strategize how the app can help you achieve them.
  3. Define the customer experience that'll help you elicit the desired actions from users.
  4. List out features required to achieve the desired user experience and business goals.
  5. Design the shopping experience and incorporate payment options preferred by your customers.
  6. Decide how you're going to update the app's content, for example, with an app management or moderation system.
  7. Define your timeframe and budget to ensure that the required functionalities can be accommodated.

Common Features for Retail Mobile Apps

While the functionalities and user experience of your mobile app should be determined by your customer needs and business objectives, here are some common features to consider:

Product Catalog and Smart Search

Include a product finder to make it easy for users to find the items they want in your online catalog. Use filters for attributes such as colors, size, price range, categories, etc., to further streamline the shopping experience. You can also include a camera-based search feature so users can use their phone cameras to find items that visually match what they're looking for.

For example, Asos' iOS app allows users to take a photo of a garment with their phones and the app will show available products similar to the item in the brand's online store.

QR Code Reader

A QR code scanner allows your staff and customers to look up product information using their smartphone cameras without typing in the item number or product name. Also, employees can use this feature to scan coupons and streamline the checkout process while customers can use it to submit reviews for specific products.

Push Notifications

This allows you to keep customers up-to-date with the latest specials, promotions, news and personalized content. These notifications can be interactive, so users can take action right within the app to increase engagement. You can use this feature to connect with customers, identify their preferences and deliver the most relevant offers based on their responses.

Location-Based Services

Using beacon technology, you can deliver the most relevant content or offer in the right place and at the right time based on each customer's current location. The app also can greet shoppers when they enter your store and show product recommendations based on their previous purchases. In addition, some retailers are using this technology to offer in-store games to engage with customers.

TGI Friday's mobile app can send a push notification to customers who are within a certain distance of its restaurants, offering a promotion on their favorite dishes to entice these customers to make a visit.

TGI Friday's mobile app can send a push notification to customers who are within a certain distance of its restaurants

Social Media Integration

People trust user-generated content and recommendations from their friends. By encouraging customers to share their positive experience with your brand on social media, you can attract more shoppers to your store or app. Tap into the power of word-of-mouth marketing by integrating your retail app with various social media platforms so users can seamlessly share your products and content.

Mobile Payment

Consumers are increasingly becoming comfortable with making transactions via mobile apps. Your app should allow users to pay using a variety of popular payment options. Consider integrating with platforms such as PayPal, Apple Pay and Android Pay to make it easy for customers to buy from you.

One-Step Checkout

To streamline the buying experience and increase conversion rates, you should allow mobile users to complete transactions with a minimum amount of information and the fewest steps possible. Allow returning customers to store their information, such as shipping address, so they can check out more quickly and easily simply by verifying their identities on their devices.

Profile and Account Management

Consumers want the ability to manage their orders, preferences and other account information anytime and from anywhere. The profile feature on a retail mobile app should allow customers to save personal information, view and reorder past purchases, adjust custom settings, apply discount codes and participate in your loyalty program.

Product Review and Ratings

Social proof has a large impact on consumer purchasing decisions and you can increase conversion rates by making it easy for happy customers to post reviews about your products through the mobile app.

For instance, Sephora's mobile app offers customers the ability to look up product reviews right from their smartphones as they shop in a store. Users also can access beauty tips and virtual products try-on to enhance their offline shopping experience.

Offline Capabilities

An offline app can reduce data storage, making it more attractive for some consumers while improving overall user experience and app performance. Such an app can store information for use offline so customers can continue interacting with your content even if they lose their network connection. 

Augmented Reality

This technology allows shoppers to see your products in context to facilitate the decision-making process, increase conversion rates and lower return rates. 

For example, Ikea Place enables users to place virtual copies of the brand's furniture in the home space and move them around to see them in context. The app also makes it easy to purchase the items right away.

Key Considerations When Building a Retail App

While some retailers use an in-house team for retail app development, many businesses work with third-party app developers who have the specific expertise and experience to design and launch their apps.

To create an app with extensive functionalities that deliver a full brand experience, your best bet is to hire an external agency that can effectively orchestrate all the moving parts — including market research, strategy, design, development, testing and maintenance. 

On the other hand, if you have the bandwidth to manage the process, using an in-house developer gives you more flexibility to create custom solutions and allows you to get immediate support whenever you need it. Those who are starting out and have a limited budget may want to try the do-it-yourself route. There are many affordable tools you can use to build an app with basic functionalities so you can get started without a large upfront investment.

Factors Affecting the Cost of Building a Retail App

Whether you choose to build a retail app in-house or outsource the project, you should have a good understanding of the cost associated with developing, launching and maintaining a retail app to avoid unpleasant surprises. Here are some considerations:

  • To establish a substantial market presence, your app should be available for both Android and iOS. This will take more time and a larger budget than creating an app for only one platform.
  • Typically, the more features in an app, the more it'll cost to build. You can prioritize the most important features for launch and add other functionalities later to shorten the timeline and spread out the budget. Doing so also allows you to make enhancements based on customer feedback.
  • Having more features isn't necessarily better. Too many functionalities can make an app very "heavy" and some consumers don't want to clog up their phones with large apps. Also, too many options may confuse users and compromise the customer experience.
  • Set aside a budget for ongoing updates. Besides technical maintenance, you should account for costs associated with customer service and content creation.
  • Stay current with the latest mobile technologies so you can leverage the latest features available on smartphones and tablets to augment the user experience.
  • To get the most from your app, put tracking and analytics in place to monitor usage. You can then make adjustments based on user feedback and add new features to meet consumer expectations.
  • Don't forget to include testing in your timeline and budget so you can ensure that the app is working properly to avoid frustrating customer experience. 
  • If you integrate the retail app with other platforms, such as social media sites, e-commerce software, loyalty program application and customer data management software, make sure that the integrations stay intact when updates are made to these third-party services or the app to avoid disrupting the customer experience.

Building the Best Retail App

With more consumers becoming inseparable from their mobile devices, retail apps have become a crucial component in the marketing toolbox of many retailers. The goal is to help create a seamless omnichannel brand experience. These apps allow businesses to deliver the right message in the right place and at the right time so they can engage their customers and stay top of mind. 

To build an effective mobile retail app, you need marketing expertise, consumer insights and technical know-how so you can deliver an outstanding customer experience and optimize your return on investment.


Roie Raitses

Roie Raitses is Kantaloupe's founder and CEO. Roie combines his passion and tenacity for digital marketing with more than 20 years of experience founding and scaling successful businesses. When he's not growing great companies faster, Roie enjoys mountain biking and spending time with his wife and two daughters.

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