Mobile Shopping Apps: Branded vs. Multi-branded Retailers

Global sales on mobile devices are expected to reach over $130B this year, and mobile shopping is the fastest growing app category. Though the opportunity is apparent, many lucrative brands are struggling to take advantage of that opportunity by incorporating mobile into their overall commerce strategy.

Multi-branded Apps Have the Upper Hand

Aggregated and user-generated content (UGC) are major contributors to the rapid evolution of some of the most successful apps. The evolving trend over the last decade towards “me” content from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube is changing our expectations around commerce as well. Mobile shopping expectations are evolving faster on the consumer side than for retail brands themselves. We trust and believe the reviews and photos that consumers contribute to shopping apps more than we trust the official or sponsored descriptions.

We also want to see our choices aggregated for us. Yelp, Pinterest, Pulse, Hotel Tonight and even Tinder are all examples of apps that facilitate a match-making of sorts between content and the user. When we shop, we want to see choices presented to us with as many personalized and contextual options as possible. We do not want to browse and review six different branded apps; we prefer to go into a single app and have choices presented to us from all six brands.

Extensive product and brand selection broadens contextual engagement opportunities, which provides the retailer with an extensive set of buyer preference information. As a result, multi-brand retailers have an advantage when gathering shopper data across multiple channels and are able to obtain a more accurate perspective of the customer.

Aggregator apps and the algorithms that drive their success will continue to evolve and address consumer interests. Branded retail apps must adapt quickly and co-exist alongside them to keep up with the consumer evolution.

The Opportunity Cost

Partnering with large multi-branded retailers and apps provides increased mobile shopping visibility. For example, Kate Spade is able to turn a mobile window shopper on Pinterest into a conversion with the new Buyable Pins, and Gap can engage a browser on Spring to make a fast purchase. Leveraging mobile shopping platforms with aggregator apps is a smart move for brands to enhance their overall mobile strategy. However, retailers will be challenged by the state of their own commerce platform evolution. Brands may have to live with limited control over their messaging, special offers and customer engagement on a non-branded app. Shipping can also become a cost-prohibitive problem with straight-to-checkout buying, and customers can’t apply brand promotions. They are at the mercy of the app’s UX and marketing teams’ decisions, which may not benefit the individual brands.

Purchasing identity is another near-term consumer problem when the brand doesn’t own the profile. Most branded retailers are still trying to figure out how to gather a single view of the customer across their own channels, let alone the complex challenge of mapping identifiers from purchases through an aggregator app.

Single-Brand Apps Serve the Loyal Customers

The success of a branded mcommerce app is based on its added value and creating an enhanced experience for their customers. Multi-branded retailers have leverage over their branded counterparts because of their large inventories and varied product categories. They are able to provide an on-demand shopping experience that brands struggle to recreate. However, there are unique opportunities for branded apps that non-branded apps cannot offer.

Brands know their advocates and most loyal customers better than any multi-branded retailer or aggregated app. They can leverage the data fueling that knowledge to create personalized and contextual experiences tailored to their customers’ interest, including loyalty rewards and create unique offers.  A brand can quickly and easily trigger a call to action to their core audience and control the dissemination of information for new product releases. This makes it possible for them to provide an exclusive window through their mobile apps before distribution to other retailers.

The Future of Mobile Apps

The future trend is toward aggregator apps. Pinterest’s addition of Buyable Pins and Amazon’s stronger focus on a more browsable UI are prime examples. Both trends provide companies a more in-depth glimpse of a shopper’s tastes, which serves to hone the shopper profile further and increase effective cross selling and upselling. This is a significant win for major brands, as it combines the saturation and user base that they already have. Branded apps need to focus on the experience and loyalty associated with the brand, and add additional value, gamification, curated product collections and storytelling approaches to their descriptions.

Brand engagement is not just about multiple channels, but rather about the seamless, immersive and contextual experience created from personalized data gathered through each touch point and IoT devices. Retailers must anticipate potential user interaction and design with these developments in mind. Such advancements may seem like a faraway concept to the mainstream consumer right now, but our expectations as consumers are evolving rapidly.

Stephanie Trunzo is the COO of PointSource

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