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App – etizing eCommerce

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To quickly start, I have to make a solemn promise to you, my readers. This post will not turn into a rant about buzzwords, though I will start with one. Apps. Apps, apps, apps. There, that’s out of the way. With that said and done, I can move on to the meat and gristle of this post which is, what can apps bring to your eCommerce strategy?

On a high level, most people would consider eCommerce to be the simple act of performing transactions online using their preferred medium of digital interactivity. While this is true, there’s a whole lot more going on behind the scenes.

There’s an app for that!

app - etizing eCommerce

What I want to touch on today, as I’ve said, is the application and utility of apps in the eCommerce scene. What can we use? What should we avoid? Why, oh why, would anyone make an app in the first place?

To kick start, let’s dip into my brief, yet relatively uncomfortable history with apps. I worked for quite some time in advertising and when the phrase ‘There’s an app for that’ was the thing to say to get in with the cool kids, it really seemed to take over. Every request was that an app was needed for whatever campaign happened to be on my plate that week. Admittedly, I was also bitten by the app bug and really wanted to deliver.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Product Detail Page Design

But Why Apps?

However, after some time, I started to ask ‘… but why?’. This is probably the single most important question that can come up during a strategy meeting and if the answer is ‘because… app’, as was sometimes so eloquently delivered to me, you must flee! As an example, here’s an overview of the types of apps I’ve got on my phone. Games that I obsessively play when I’m on the streetcar trying for that last little taste of Candy Crush before starting my work day. Games that are bright and colourful because my daughter loves them (we basically wind up playing Candy Crush together). Social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

I’m going to give my favourite apps their own paragraph here, if you don’t mind. These are the utilitarian apps that give me better functionality than what came on the phone itself. A better alarm clock that takes traffic into account and wakes me up earlier or later depending on said traffic (I haven’t actually found this one yet. Somebody make it for me?). A keyboard that’s more friendly to my awkwardly large fingers. An ebook reader (for when Candy Crush is frustrating me). An app that tells me approximately just how long I’m going to have to wait in the bitter cold for a packed streetcar to drive by me. These are apps that I use everyday. I cannot reiterate this enough. For apps to be worthwhile, they need to have staying power. They need to entice someone to not only go through the bothersome trouble of downloading your app, but also keeping it on their phone to be used and perused everyday.

Back to eCommerce

With the idea of app longevity in mind, we begin to look at a couple businesses that have chosen to offer their mobile experience as an app. I have 3 of these on my phone as I speak. Touch of Modern, Frank & Oak, and Geek (listed in chronological order of when they appeared, mysteriously, on my phone). This is by no means an all-inclusive list, just the ones I happen to be aware of and have personally used.


What reasoning could a company have to be so many barriers of entry up for their users to leap in their quest to obtain the products these guys are selling? This is where we dive into the unknown and theoretical, formulated from my best estimates of 29 years of people watching, social behaviour analysis, and off the cuff assumptions about society as a whole.

The first thing that I can note about the companies that have associated apps, is that, even on their regular website, potential users are met with a registration screen. They make it easy by allowing you to use your Facebook or Google session to easily register and login. Again, though, why? How can I make an informed decision about registering with this company when I can only see the most general of information about what they’re all about? The answer to this, I think, can be traced back through the ages, to the darkest corners of high schools all throughout the nation:

Cliques. Prestige. Exclusivity.

Registering with one of the eCommerce systems carries with it all the – self attributed – notoriety of being one of the elite. While everyone can register, by doing so, you’re afforded the chance to recognize yourself as the height of cool, and who doesn’t want to do that? These brands have such a refined presence that when you find yourself connecting on some level to their splash page, you feel almost compelled to register to see more. To immerse yourself in the culture that’s being created.

On the technical side of things, there are a couple other advantages to handling your mobile customers through an app as well. A dedicated app will have more resources attributed to it, allowing for greater performance in the app itself whereas a browser on a phone has a limited amount of resources and can appear sluggish if there’s too much going on at once. On top of this, while browsers and web technologies have been making great strides on this front, there are functions of apps that browsers don’t have, or haven’t perfected yet. Top of mind would be push notifications. These would be roughly equivalent to an email alert from a website that you’ve subscribed to. The difference being, you could easily miss that email, thereby missing out on the exclusive item or deal that’s being offered to you, you amazing person, you. The app, on the other hand, can dole out exclusive deals with a handy alert tone or vibration to let you know what’s going on.

Related: 2015 eCommerce Trends

The Issue with Having an App

app - etizing eCommerce
This sounds all well and good, but what are the downfalls to this type of system? I’ve already mentioned it before, but to reiterate, the biggest issue inherent in this is the hurdles a user has to go through to be a part of the club. I never got in with the cool kids in school, because I didn’t download the app. It didn’t have enough appeal to me. It didn’t have longevity. Things change and now I have a small handful of these apps on my phone, though I admit I’ve yet to purchase anything from them. Having a barrier of entry on your eCommerce platform does exactly what it sounds like. It will potentially bar some people access.

Since we’ve got apps on the brain, I want to make the title of this post as apt as possible, mostly due to how clever I like to think I am. What do you do when you don’t want to commit to an app but still want the added benefits of such a system? There’s a couple options here for the clever developer. First, let’s jump back to the push notifications. There are a couple emerging apps that you can link up to your website which will allow the app to send push notifications. Multiple websites can send notifications through these apps, and so they act as sort of a hub. It’s a barrier that you have to download the app, but it’s an entirely opt-in friendly and gives control back to the user. In another area, we have UI to think about. These benefits, though, can be brought to mobile websites fairly easily by the developer.

One of My General Philosophies

While you want your site to stand out, it’s much more important that your users feel comfortable in what they’re doing. Taking this into account, look at what the big boys are doing, and not just necessarily in eCommerce. Almost everyone has, at some point, used the Facebook app. A lot of those people even use it every day. How better to create a comfortable environment than by giving your users an environment that they’re already comfortable with? Simple functionality like being able to swipe your navigation menu into view from the left, or a static global utilities navigation anchored to the bottom of the screen with quick links to call support or login to your account can be added to create that sense of comfort, ultimately compelling your customers to come back for more, day in, day out.

To App or not to App?

app - etizing eCommerce

Do you want your clientele to be the select few, the ones so entrenched in your culture that they’ll almost undoubtedly download the app and buy… do you want to give free access to the masses… or do you want to meet somewhere in the middle? As with anything, there are ups and downs for both strategies. As always, there is almost always certainly the right tool for the right job. Choose your weapon wisely and wield it with certainty. You know your business better than I do, so you tell me. To app, or not to app? Go.

Related: eCommerce First Steps: How Many Products is Enough?

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