Presented by FollowAnalytics

In 2013 billionaire tech entrepreneur and leading Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen predicted a high-drama outcome for retail. As he put it: “Retail guys are going to go out of business, and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice.”

Fast forward, and his prediction is more direct than dire. The global pandemic has turned the “pre-death” stage for retail into a potential extinction moment for many major brands and chains.

Today, we know retail’s New Normal is mobile

The meteoric growth of mobile commerce has prompted analysts to readjust forecasts upwards, proclaiming 2020 the biggest year ever for mobile and apps. Research firm eMarketer expects mobile shopping sales to reach $314 billion in 2020, which is $200 billion more than four years ago and represents over 44% of all ecommerce sales. App store intelligence provider App Annie reports U.S. consumers will spend 1 billion hours shopping on Android devices alone, a 50% increase from Q4 2019.

The holiday shopping season has further accelerated the shift to smartphones and apps. Preliminary data from Adobe Analytics shows U.S. consumers spent $6.3 million per minute online on Black Friday alone.  Spending on smartphones surged 25.3% year over year to reach $3.6 billion, accounting for 40% of total online spend.

Meanwhile, mobile video advertising company AdColony highlights the pivotal place of mobile apps in the path-to-purchase. It reports that almost half (46%) of holiday shoppers in North America chose in-app over a mobile browser. Ease of use and simple navigation top the list of features that keep consumers browsing and buying on their mobile apps (50%), the research says. An easy payment process is important for 25% of consumers, followed by exclusive offers and coupons (14%).

The findings spotlight the key features (or lack of them) that will make or break retailers this holiday season — and beyond.

But there’s always a bright future for the best-in-class

The high-performing companies leading the way deliver mobile app experiences that support shoppers at every step of the journey, from consideration to conversion. The wisdom of this approach is clear in light of Deloitte’s findings that show mobile apps are the starting point for nearly half (46%) of shoppers to do research before making a purchase decision.

Market-leading retailers also embrace what I call an “always-on innovation” mindset. They add features such as BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store)  and deep integration with leading digital commerce platforms such as Shopify, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, and Magento that anticipate, as well as answer, shopper requirements.

How can retailers adapt their apps to encourage interaction, drive transactions, and consistently provide value that will keep customers coming back? The lessons I’ve learned from working with our FollowAnalytics customers are a helpful guide.

As inspiration for companies during year-end strategy planning, I outline the 3Fs, steps consumer-facing brands and retailers can follow to architect an app experience that drives customer connection and conversions.

1. Friction-free: Reduce hassle to accelerate revenues

Apps empower customers to browse and buy on their terms. Free of high-friction physical boundaries such as checkout lanes or parking lots, consumers no longer need to go shopping. They are always shopping.

The good news: Shopping in the digital realm is growing nearly 5x faster than physical store sales. The not-so-good news: Consumers are continually raising the bar on customer experience. One way to meet expectations is with a simple shortcut that allows shoppers to order via the app and then pick up their purchase at or just outside the store. Retail reimagined: The new era for customer experience, a new report from Periscope by McKinsey, tells us the appeal of this option among shoppers in the U.S. “increased by 13 percentage points.” Internal data at FollowAnalytics supports the massive positive impact, highlighting record demand for features that help shoppers manage time, not waste it.

Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, which creates and sells eco-friendly and convenient products for babies and homes, leveraged the FollowAnalytics platform to quickly turn its ecommerce environment into a mobile app experience low on friction and high on engagement. From a custom user interface to the integration with Salesforce Commerce Cloud, the retailer provides a prime example of how apps adapt to customer requirements because they must.

Taking the friction out of the journey isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s what it takes to meet ever-evolving customer experience requirements and remain relevant.

2. Feature-rich: Adapt to customer preferences to drive returns

From payment systems that allow shoppers to check out with Apple Pay and Google Pay to augmented reality (AR) systems that allow consumers to try on clothing or test products, baking the right features into your app experience (in the right combination) unlocks revenues.

Market-leading brands and retailers need no convincing. A great example is Nike. The largest seller of athletic footwear and athletic apparel in the world activated its digital community by offering virtual workouts and saw an 80% increase in weekly active users of its mobile app. But market giants aren’t the only ones winning big by adding key features at the speed of change.

In some cases, features are a source of competitive advantage that let smaller companies play in the major leagues. A prime example is FITNESS SF. The locally owned and operated fitness center is punching far above its weight thanks to a hybrid app that makes virtual training truly effective and engaging. Livestream classes, one-on-one virtual training, and personalized meal recommendations top a detailed list of crowd-pleasing features that have enabled the company to keep customers coming back.

FITNESS SF Vice President Don Dickerson told Low Code Ninjas (a FollowAnalytics podcast) that the app also allows the company to expand its offer and ecosystem. “Nutrition is a huge part of fitness and now we’re able to deliver recipes and nutritional advice, a meal plan, and the ability to order online all through our mobile app.”

Moving forward, Dickerson sees an opportunity to “become a lifestyle brand” and take a more active role in customers’ lives. It’s an ambitious goal — and well within reach, because the pandemic has taught FITNESS SF and many of our customers to expect and embrace the unexpected.

You don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, so it’s critical to operate in a low-code environment where you can iterate at a very rapid clip.

3. Fast: Innovate at the speed of change

Digital transformation has been accelerated by a factor of 10, obliterating the linear path-to-purchase. Recent data from McKinsey and Company reveals consumers are switching brands at an unprecedented rate. The outcome is a “shattering of brand loyalties.” But that’s just one of the behavior shifts putting the squeeze on retail. Brands and retailers are also under pressure to develop a dynamic way of making the match between the experience their app offers and what their customers want and need.

That’s where low-code puts companies on the fast track to create what Seth Winters, VP of Digital Innovation at doTERRA, a manufacturer and retailer of essential oils and nutritional supplements, calls a “blended experience.” In this scenario, retailers don’t reinvent shopping. They reorient the experience by harnessing hybrid technology to deploy tailored experiences that consumers appreciate at the moment of inspiration.

It enables retailers to showcase offers and features consumers crave. More importantly, it equips companies to achieve positive results in record time. In a recent interview with Low Code Ninjas, Winters recalls that low-code shaved nearly four years off the time needed to deliver shoppers a genuinely useful app.

That would have been a long wait in a market where timing is everything. To complicate matters further, retailers are competing with all companies everywhere on the planet for the talent and tools to accelerate digital transformation.

That, according to IDC, is going to require a massive number of new apps in an incredibly short time. The global provider of market intelligence estimates 500 million digital apps and services will be created by 2023. That’s the same number of apps developed in the last 40 years. Given the impending app gap that will see some businesses left behind in the race to innovate, low-code offers a faster pathway to profits.

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella takes it a step further. He advises enabling a new category of developers equipped with “tools that are low-code or no-code to create solutions that solve their unique business needs.”

We have vaulted ten years ahead in consumer and business digital penetration in less than three months. The question is no longer: Is a mobile app a must? The question now is: How quickly can companies deliver in order to extract the maximum value from their mobile app?

We present a helpful blueprint and actionable advice in our Low Code Explosion report. It’s an essential read and a fast one as well ;-)

Samir Addamine is Founder of FollowAnalytics.

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