A shopper with a Target app visits that chain about once more a month than an app-less shopper.

So says new field data released today by mobile data analytics firm Wefi. It’s based on device-transmitted info from shoppers at 49 stores in the Los Angeles area run by seven major retailers: Costco, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears, Target, and Walmart.

The Herndon, Virginia-based Wefi noted that all previous research about the effect of in-store apps has utilized surveys with small samples. By contrast, Wefi used data transmitted from about 40,000 cooperating users’ devices.

Wefi found that shoppers with apps are more engaged with the store:

  • On average, a shopper with a retailer’s app on his smartphone will visit that brand’s store one extra time each month, compared to shoppers who are bereft of that app. Of course, that dozen more annual visits represent a significant amount of additional foot traffic.

    Kohl’s showed the most increase, with 86 percent more visits (just under three monthly) than users without the app (about 1.5 visits on average). Nordstrom was the only one of the seven to show fewer visits (1.2) for app-holders than non-appsters (1.6).

Wefi - number visits

  • A shopper with a retailer’s app will spend an average of seven more minutes during each store visit than someone without the app. Macy’s was tops here, with app users staying 29 percent longer than non-app users — nearly 50 minutes, versus just over 38 minutes.

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  • The retailer with the most-opened app was Target, where 72.34 percent of those with the app opened it while in the store. The next two most-opened apps were, in order, Kohl’s (53.29 percent) and Sears (37.14 percent).
  • The percentage of users with the app installed, however, is still tiny. Walmart’s was the highest: For shoppers at Walmart, 6.92 percent had that retailer’s app installed.

    Nordstrom’s was the lowest, with .07 percent of its visitors bearing its app. At Target, which showed the greatest user engagement in terms of opening the app, 2.64 percent of shoppers were apped.

The data, Wefi VP of product management Alexander Zaidelson told me, not only shows “a correlation between app usage in a specific location and user behavior [such as in-store loyalty and visit frequency], but, for the first time, allows a retailer to benchmark app usage” against competitors.

Because there was no data collected on how the apps were used or even what functions they contained, this field study could not account for why one store had a more effective app than another.

But, Zaidelson told me, it’s likely that some retailers’ “overall mobile strategy, including feature sets, relevance, promotion, and quality of the apps, were executed better.”

There was also no data on whether beacons were present in the store. Zaidelson said Wefi intends to add beacon data at some point. The users’ apps communicated via in-store Wi-Fi or 3G/4G.

The data was collected over a five-month period beginning in January via Wefi’s free app or from partner apps on about 40,000 users’ phones. Wefi’s app is designed to help users find the best free Wi-Fi hotspot, and Zaidelson said it comes with an agreement that allows it to send anonymous, aggregated data to the company.

Wefi’s app and the partner apps can see which apps are active on the device, although they do not register device ID. The study’s conclusions were extrapolated from the large sample, since not every shopper with a retailer app had the Wefi or partner app installed — although some users did. The stores’ native apps were not created by Wefi.

Zaidelson declined to identify the names of the partner apps so as not to compromise future data collection, but said their data transmission is also permission-based. User location was determined from GPS if it had been enabled in the Wefi app or the partner apps, and/or from positioning determined via 3G/4G or WiFi receiving/transmitting locations.

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