6 Tips to Designing the Mobile Shopping App of Tomorrow

Today’s shopaholics don’t need bags, shopping carts or even a mall – with just a mobile device, they can order whatever they want, whenever they want, without ever having to leave the comfort of their homes.

And many do just that.

In fact, consumers now spend more time shopping on mobile retail apps than they do on the equivalent desktop websites. This is especially true on some of the busiest shopping days of the year – for example, the days around Thanksgiving, when mobile devices produce about 1/3 of all online U.S. retail traffic.

But, if these mobile retail apps don’t live up to users’ high expectations, consumers won’t shop until they drop – they’ll drop the apps and move on!

By following these five tips, retailers can learn the importance of incorporating unique and creative features into their apps, designing for any device and developing for scale, speed and location to support mobile shopping trends and keep customers happy.

Give Customers a Reason to Go Mobile

As important as mobile shopping apps are, there’s no guarantee that customers will download and use an app simply because it exists. Apps need to bring something new to the table for customers and, if you also have a storefront location, enhance their in-store experience.

Take the Apple Store app, for instance. Apple took the music-selling app beyond its core function to help customers with everything from finding the nearest Apple Store, to setting up appointments at the Genius Bar, to tracking nearby workshops and events. Users are only ever one swipe away from getting the information they need to engage with Apple in-store and in-person.

Build Once, Deploy Everywhere

Once you have an idea of what your mobile commerce app will do, the next step is to think about which platforms will support your app. Which devices are your target customers most likely to use: mobile phones or tablets? Which operating systems?

Market share is almost equally split between Android and Apple users, so to meet the demand of all your users, you need to choose the right mobile app development model that allows you to build once, and then deploy everywhere. That is, don’t re-build your app for iPhone, then for Android, then for Windows Phone.  Rather, build your app so that it will work on any device or operating system, and for any user.

Strengthen for Scale

As more retailers see the benefits of mobile shopping, app marketplaces are bound to get more crowded very quickly. For every wildly successful Starbucks app that sets the bar, there will be a flood of competitors – Dunkin Donuts, Panera Bread, Wendy’s, etc. – that come up with creative, feature-rich apps of their own. And these new apps will bring plenty of new users as well.

This means apps will need to be responsive – not just for a handful of customers, but potentially for hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous users. Hopefully for retailers, the backend of their apps will have been developed to withstand the pressures of scale so these apps hold up under increased traffic.

Develop for Speed

App responsiveness doesn’t just relate to scale, but also to speed. Mobile shoppers aren’t interested in wasting their time watching apps struggle to finalize a purchase. Of the customers who research products on their mobile device, 55%  want to make a purchase within an hour of their initial research, and 83% want to make a purchase within the day. This means that retailers need to build mobile shopping apps that provide customers with immediate shopping options.

An effective solution for developers is to slim up their apps using intelligent data distribution so that they send only data that’s changed – a sale, stock change or a special offer. That’s going to support better app performance because the app doesn’t need to send and receive as much data, ultimately helping achieve greater throughput so users can check-out quickly.

Tap into Location Intelligence

Ninety percent of smartphones will be enabled with GPS technology by 2016, creating massive opportunities for retailers to serve their customers even better. For one, mobile shopping apps that use location intelligence will give retailers a better understanding of where their customers are, in real-time, so they can push special coupons, flash sales or loyalty rewards to those in their immediate area.

For this approach to be successful, location information needs to be accurate up-to-the second. Variable network connectivity and performance can hamper this, making it difficult to determine accurately where customers are located. However, by intelligently sending smaller data packets, more frequent app updates can be sent over whatever limited bandwidth is available, enabling accurate tracking and, hence, a rich user experience.

Be Sure to Stay Creative

At some point, commerce apps all start to look the same, so it’s important that retailers find a way to stand out to consumers to stay ahead of the competition. The Burberry app is a great success story, as the luxury retailer uses its app in-store to build a picture of individual customers, including previous online and offline purchases, sizes and other personal details. Employees can use this information to personalize the in-store experience for shoppers, and quickly order out-of-stock items for shoppers.

Ride the Mobile Retail Wave

There’s really only one goal of retail mobile apps – to allow customers the option to shop until they drop. Not to shop until they lose their network connection or to shop until the app refuses to load (in that case, the only thing “dropping” will be your app – right off your customers’ phones).

By applying best practices like developing for any OS and incorporating intelligent data distribution throughout the app development process, retailers will create must-have apps that allow shoppers to stack up purchases as high as they want in their digital carts, and we’ll continue to see mobile commerce revenue numbers grow.

Sean Bowen is the CEO of Push Technology