Does Your Business Really Need a Mobile App?
Some mobile apps seem like a solution in search of a problem. So, skip making an app yourself if it doesn't add functionality to your mobile-optimized website.
These days, with the Google Play store home to 3.5 million apps, and the App Store home to over 2.2 million (according to Statista), it can seem like every business has a mobile app. Even your local pizza shop may be getting in on the action!
The temptation for even small, local businesses to develop their own app is completely understandable. An app that gains you traction with customers can be a significant way to boost business. And the solid number of active users that the app brings is one of the most important factors for determining how to value an app and how the app adds to the overall value of your business.
TechCrunch has estimated that U.S. consumers now spend five hours a day on mobile devices. And 92 percent of that time is spent using apps -- with only that remaining 8 percent devoted to a web browser.
Notably, there is a flip side to these statistics. According to Localytics, 23 percent of apps are used only once, then abandoned. Three months after they install an app, 80 percent of consumers no longer launch it at all.
While developing a dedicated app for your business is easier and more cost-effective than ever, largely thanks to platforms like Firebase and BuildFire, this task still requires a significant investment of resources -- especially in terms of maintenance and updates.
So, how do you decide if building a mobile app is right for you? Here are eight questions to ask before you take the plunge:
1. Is your website optimized for mobile?
Before you consider developing a mobile app, it’s a good idea to take stock of how your company’s website performs on mobile devices. Responsive web design can greatly improve user experience on mobile devices, and responsive web themes are readily available on popular platforms such as WordPress and Shopify.
Despite this fact, many small businesses don't employ mobile-friendly website design. If you’re one of them, consider upgrading your website before you devote your attention to developing a mobile app.
2. Do your competitors have apps?
When evaluating whether or not your business should develop an app, it makes sense to examine what your competitors are doing. Do they currently offer an app? If so, check out the statistics available from the relevant app stores. The number of downloads and user reviews should give you valuable insight into how your competitor’s app is being received by consumers.
If it seems that their app is getting some traction, you may be left behind if you don’t offer your customers an app with similar or improved functionality.
3. Will your app solve a customer problem?
Some mobile apps seem like a solution in search of a problem. If your app doesn’t offer any additional functionality or convenience to your mobile-optimized website, it will likely struggle to gain traction with consumers. Think of the pain points your customers face and how an app can resolve them.
Those of us who have ever had to stand in line at the bank to deposit a check likely thought it was magic the first time we skipped that process by scanning a check with a mobile app. Aim for that kind of wow factor when developing a feature set for your own app.
4. Does retaining customer data simplify conversions?
One major reason why mobile commerce sales conversion rates still lag significantly behind desktop, according to Smart Insights, is the clumsiness of inputting information such as billing and shipping addresses on a mobile device. If your business relies on repeat customers -- such as an ecommerce store or a food delivery service -- the elimination of this tedious entry of information when using an app may lead to increased sales.
5. Do you offer a customer loyalty program?
If you offer a customer loyalty program, having an app makes it easy to ditch punch cards once and for all. It also makes it easy for you to reward customers with targeted discounts, coupons, and other incentives.
6. Do you rely heavily on branding?
When consumers download your app, they’re giving you a valuable piece of real estate on their mobile device. Simply having your logo on the home screen of a device that your customer looks at many times each day will help keep your brand top of mind.
7. Do you utilize user-generated content for marketing purposes?
Consider building functionality that allows your customers to share content, such as photos and video, featuring your products across social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and other channels.
8, Can you build an app that uses the functionality of mobile devices?
Apps that utilize the functions of mobile devices, such as a camera or accelerometer, are particularly popular with users. These offer a user experience that a website can’t match. Some compelling examples of this are the wildly popular MapMy and MyFitnessPal fitness apps offered by sportswear and wearable tech manufacturer Under Armour.
If you’re a small-business owner who answered yes to any of the questions above, it may well be time to build a dedicated mobile app for your business. But simply building an app is not enough. Focus on delivering tangible benefits to your customers, and the hard work you put into building your app will pay off, time and time again.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor