App map

April 1, 2015 04:05 PM

52% of the time U.S. consumers spend digitally occurs within a mobile app, according to online measurement firm comScore Inc. Mind you, that’s not more than half of just mobile time, that’s more than half of all digital time—on desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, smartglasses, smart-whatever.

Shazam accounts for a chunk of that time spent in apps. The mobile app that recognizes and identifies songs, TV shows and more just from hearing short audio clips (Shazam has a database of more than 30 million songs, TV shows, ads and other content) has been downloaded more than 600 million times, the company says. The Shazam app, built in-house, is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars in the Apple App Store and 4.4 out of 5 stars in the Google Play store. Further, Shazam—an Apple Inc. launch partner for the original iPhone in 2007—racks up several hundred million dollars in annual revenues from sales of digital music within the app, the company reports.

So, when the CEO of Shazam identifies key features of a successful mobile app, take notes.

“The app is incredibly convenient and fast—you open Shazam, push the large button, no typing, and in seconds it does precisely what you want it to do,” says Rich Riley, Shazam’s CEO.

Shazam offers Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows versions of its universal app. A universal app is a single app that contains different experiences for smartphones and tablets, saving a company from having to build separate smartphone and tablet apps. Shazam last year launched its first desktop app, for Apple computers, transitioning from a mobile-only to a mobile-first company. The Shazam app is free, though the company offers a $6.99 version that strips out all advertising. Almost all of the 600 million downloads have been of the free version.

Simplicity is key to Shazam’s success, Riley says. “There is no room for confusion—you just push the button and here come the results,” Riley says. The company has also been making its results richer, adding elements such as song lyrics and the artist’s tour dates.

Getting a mobile customer to exactly what he needs—precision—in the fastest possible manner—speed—is of utmost importance to Shazam and to any company with a mobile app today, Riley says.

Precision and speed are fundamentals when creating a mobile app to serve today’s mobile-oriented consumers. There are a number of features and functions that are key to successful apps—one-touch login or checkout, judicious push notifications, incredible imagery—that, in the end, all directly relate to precision and speed.

And businesses from differing markets can find mobile inspiration in each other’s apps. A health insurance company, for example, might see entertainment and retail company Shazam’s jumbo Touch-Me button on the app home screen and be inspired to add a jumbo home screen button of its own that, when pressed, immediately finds via GPS in-network physicians in the immediate vicinity.

Consumers have increasingly abandoned the mobile web browsers on their devices (especially on smartphones) and turned to mobile apps to satiate their needs. What’s that song on the car radio? Push the giant button marked “Touch” in the Shazam app and find out. Where can I find a particular HDTV right now? Search the Target Corp. GPS-enabled app and filter by real-time inventory to find the nearest Target store with that model in stock.

“A shift to mobile apps has been trending for a while, and today it indeed is hitting epic heights,” says R.J. Pittman, chief product officer at eBay Inc., who is responsible for the online marketplace’s customer experience on all screens. 282 million consumers worldwide have downloaded eBay’s smartphone, tablet and wearables apps, eBay says.

“The technology that powers apps today has become far more powerful than just a few years ago,” Pittman says. “The capabilities inside apps has always been good since the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Today, however, you can build much better experiences in apps than on any other platform, hands down—including the desktop.”

Arguably the most important mobile app feature today is one-touch login, which includes one-touch checkout. Talk about precision and speed: Rather than enter a user name and password, a consumer merely touches the home button on his smartphone or tablet.

E-retailer Inc. pioneered the concept of one-touch checkout in 2009. But its system continues to rely on a multistep device authentication process. Apple and PayPal upped the ante last year with one-touch login and checkout features. All iPhones from the iPhone 5s forward have biometric fingerprint scanning built in. (Some Android smartphones do, as well.) An iPhone user registers his fingerprint on the device and from that point on, when the consumer is using the mobile app of any business that has incorporated Apple’s Touch ID system into its app, the consumer is prompted to log in or check out with his fingerprint.

Travel and hospitality company Airbnb Inc.’s app accepts one-touch Apple Pay payments, greatly easing the process of booking accommodations.

“This is how businesses can differentiate themselves, and this is where mobile technology itself is a differentiator,” says Scott Raymond, mobile engineering manager at Airbnb. Previously, Raymond co-founded online and mobile payments company Dwolla Inc. “You just touch once with your finger to get a booking confirmation screen. Apple Pay lowers the friction of booking so much.”

While one-touch features make life easier for mobile app users, push notifications help users stay on top of matters important to them, and help retailers keep consumers engaged with their apps.

Push notifications are critical to Airbnb, which has not one type of user but two: Consumers looking for properties to book and consumers offering their properties for rental. Unless they opt out of the approval process and allow for automatic booking, consumers offering properties must approve a booking. Further, they must be prepared to answer questions travelers looking for lodging may have about their property. And the longer a traveler must wait for an answer, the greater the odds of that traveler booking elsewhere.

“Seamless mobile messaging is vital—our statistics show the longer it takes to receive a reply, the less likely a booking will succeed,” says Joe Zadeh, head of product at Airbnb. “That’s just bad for business.”

Hosts can receive push notifications that, when swiped, lead directly to questions within the app and get back to guests within a minute, Zadeh says. As for guests, Airbnb is still experimenting with what and when to push. “We do not want to be annoying,” says Zadeh, echoing the concern of just about every marketer dealing with an app.

Rent The Runway executives have two words on the subject of push notifications: Interesting and useful.

“The last thing you want to do on a mobile device is spam your customer,” says Camille Fournier, chief technology officer at Rent The Runway, which enables its customers to rent high-end women’s designer apparel and accessories. “If you have an order coming, we will send you a push when it ships along with the tracking code. We may send a push when we receive the item back from the customer, at the same time encouraging them to write a review.”

Further, if a Rent The Runway customer has used the feature in the app dubbed Shortlist, a pared-down selection of dresses from which she might want to choose for an upcoming gala dinner, the app might fire off a push notification reminding her the dinner is approaching and she has four dresses to choose from on her short list.

“That has proven to perform very well for us,” Fournier says, though she declines to reveal exact figures. “The trick of push is to make them useful, not random. You have to really think, ‘What is my customer going to think when she sees this?’” 20% of Rent The Runway’s sales stem from the app, as do 30% of the customer reviews. About half of daily active app users have opted in to push notifications, Fournier says.

Just as push notifications can help consumers navigate the mobile world, smartphones and the apps on them can help consumers navigate the real world. Businesses can benefit by including in their mobile apps features and functions that help consumers as they bounce from location to location throughout the day.

Target, for example, focuses on how its core shopping app can help a shopper prepare for a visit to a Target store and assist her once she is in a store.

“Features like the shopping list, the ability to see what’s in stock at a store, the ability to buy in the app but pick up in-store—these features help customers prepare,” says Jason Goldberger, Target’s president of and mobile. He declines to reveal exact numbers on revenue driven by the app but says mobile commerce is “growing very aggressively” with “triple-digit growth for several years.” “The mobile app has become a crucial piece for many of our guests pre-visits and during store visits. We see the app driving in-store revenue increases.”

In 2014, Target’s mobile traffic grew 44% and mobile conversion rate grew 69% year over year, the company says. That compares with a 50% increase in overall digital conversion rate during the same period, Target says.

“In our stores, guests are accessing their lists, additional product information and locating products within the store,” Goldberger says. “Store maps have become very important in the app.”

Target uses the location-based mapping technology of PointInside for its in-app store maps. Goldberger says two years ago most of Target’s store shoppers wouldn’t have thought they had much need for such a thing, but today, after shoppers have had the chance to try the map feature, maps have grown in prominence among most-used app features.

“This is because your smartphone has become crucial to your daily life,” Goldberger says. “It’s the most important physical object you use every day. And mobile apps in stores are a natural extension of that.”

The Target app is making things more convenient for consumers, leading them to precisely what they are looking for, and in a most speedy fashion. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because that’s exactly what Shazam said at the beginning of the story. One’s a giant chain retailer, the other is a mobile-only entertainment app. Any business with a highly successful app will say the same. Adding features like one-touch login and checkout, relevant push notifications, analytics-fueled product search, location-aware tools for interaction in the real world, and others will make an app highly useful to consumers and keep them engaged with the app, and the business.




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