Despite advances in e-commerce technology, shopping online is still widely seen as more challenging than visiting a store. While 92% of consumers view shopping in a physical store as “easy,” only 42% feel the same about shopping online. Consequently, retailers are striving to refine the experience. Nearly 80% of brands in L2’s Department Store Index have invested in both mobile sites and mobile apps. While this double investment might seem unnecessary, the study offers evidence that apps increasingly provide a different consumer experience than brand sites.
The typical Department Store mobile app offers a unique functionality not present on the mobile or desktop site, such as Belk’s Wedding Registry app. Others present content from the mobile site in a more visually appealing way, improving the mobile shopping experience. For example, the Bloomingdale’s “Big Brown Bag” app has the same functionality as its mobile site, but has a more intuitive, user-friendly interface.
Increasingly, mobile apps offer more functionality than either mobile or desktop sites, helping retailers bridge the omnichannel gap with features like geolocation and camera integration. For example, Kohl’s recently added beacon functionality to its mobile app, enabling users to receive personalized messages based on their nearest store. Similarly, the JCPenney app allows users to snap a photo of a clothing item and instantly view similar products available at JCPenney, which they can purchase without leaving the app. These features not only make shopping more efficient, but also allow brands to communicate with customers on a more localized and personalized level.
Loyalty programs are another area where mobile apps can improve the online shopping experience. Harvey Nichols observed that 80% of customers preferred a mobile app to a plastic card, and followed up by launching a digital-only rewards program in June. Nearly 40% of Index brands active in the App Store incorporate loyalty card functionality into at least one offering, although only 9% have a stand-alone loyalty card app. These increased investments in mobile apps could well pay off as online shoppers opt for retailers offering the most seamless experiences.