Lessons Learned: The iOS 7 Transition for Retail Apps

Apple’s introduction of the iOS 7 operating system was a major event at launch time. However, many of the implications for retail mobile apps are still rippling outward. The new OS is having an impact on app performance, management mindset, and consumer expectations. The effects are being felt not only by companies that have already overhauled their apps for iOS 7, but by retailers who haven’t refreshed their apps at all, and by the large majority who are still in the middle of the transition process.

The retail industry as a whole has only begun to realize the full potential of mobile apps. Standout companies like Rue La La and Zappos are using their apps to drive brand engagement and user conversion rates, but even the best of the best have only started to take advantage of all of the opportunities available.

In many ways, the launch of iOS 7 is waking companies up to the sales and marketing possibilities inherent in the app channel. Apps make an interactive exchange possible, they’re available on the most personal devices consumers own, and they help bridge the gap between the online and in-store experience.

At the same time, iOS 7 is proving that retailers can no longer afford to ignore the app channel, or publish an app once and then leave it to languish. Market expectations are being shaped by Apple’s innovations, and by all of the new ways consumers are now using their mobile devices on a daily basis. The app revolution is happening, and it’s sweeping the retail industry along with it, whether individual companies decide to participate or not.

User Interface Impact

The user interface updates in iOS 7 are some of the most apparent changes in Apple’s latest operating system upgrade. Apple is now emphasizing the use of the whole phone screen, white spaces, borderless buttons, and fewer drop shadows, gradients, and bezels. As a result, apps designed around the old style look out of date in iOS 7.

There are also some excellent online examples of user interface glitches that have occurred because the system-wide OS is now handling certain UI elements differently. Some apps, for example, show overlapping text, flattened buttons, or line separators that are out of position because of the new way iOS 7 has reformatted particular elements.

Even apps that haven’t experienced major UI issues are still feeling an impact from iOS 7 because of more subtle layout changes. A button that has moved slightly on the app screen in the new OS, for example, can lead to lower conversion rates. Aesthetics are important, but performance is even more so. Retailers have to monitor usage data to know whether iOS 7 is having a positive or negative effect.

Financial and Feature Impact

Two stats in particular point to the financial impact of iOS 7 on retail apps. First, more than 250 million Apple devices are already running the new OS. Second, according to comScore, consumer spending on mobile devices jumped nearly 25 percent in three months to $5.8 billion in the third quarter of 2013, the last period for which information is available. Put those stats together, and it means that how well apps are optimized for iOS 7 can directly affect retail revenue results.

In addition, new features in iOS 7 are changing the landscape for retail marketing. iBeacon is opening up new opportunities for proximity marketing, where the location of a consumer can trigger a particular offer or marketing message on the user’s mobile device. AirDrop allows companies to share files, including photos, with people in the immediate vicinity (within a store, for example) over a direct connection. And Passbook now supports QR code scanning, which means retailers can streamline coupon campaigns by helping iOS users better organize any discounts they scan.

Companies are already experimenting with iOS 7’s new marketing-friendly features. Men’s fashion company Frank and Oak, for example, already deployed iBeacon in a pop-up holiday store this past December. The more retailers take advantage of similar iOS 7 opportunities going forward, the more companies that ignore the trend will end up losing money and consumer mindshare.

A New Opportunity for Mobile Experience Management

The lessons being learned today through the iOS 7 transition point to a fundamental change that’s taking place throughout the app industry. Static apps grow stale quickly, and in order to be successful now, retailers have to find ways to keep their apps fresh, dynamic, and relevant to users.

More than just publishing an app, retailers need to commit resources and begin relying on Mobile Experience Management platforms to optimize their apps over time. iOS 7 is only the latest in a series of changes that will transform how consumers use mobile devices, and the rate of change is likely to accelerate as smartphones and tablets become even more integrated into everyday activities.

At a high level, the biggest takeaway from the iOS 7 transition is that retailers need a new approach to tackling mobile apps. Apple has changed the game again. It won’t be the last time.

Bob Moul is CEO of Artisan Mobile.

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