Native mobile applications have been in the consumer consciousness for ten years now. Yes, really, it’s been ten years since the launch of the Apple App Store and billions of apps have been downloaded by consumers all over the world. But, and here’s the thing, if you have had a smartphone for the best part of a decade, how many of the apps that you downloaded during the first flush of smartphone lust do you still use? We would take a guess that, other than apps used for accessing social media or the news, probably none. Carling introduced an app back in 2008 / 2009 that used the native functionality of an iPhone that turned your smartphone into a ‘virtual pint’. Yes, you could pretend your iPhone was a pint of 4% ABV lager. Awesome, right? For the first two or three times you show your mates, it will then quickly lose it’s novelty, not get used and, rather quickly, deleted.

Are apps worth it?

As a digital agency, we deal with companies who, predominantly, make their money online. We often get asked by clients whether it is worth investing in a native mobile application. Quick jargon check here – a native mobile application is an app that is downloaded from an app store (like Apple or Google Play) that uses the native feature in a smartphone. These could be the compass, location tracking services or gyrometer.  So, back to my original point, if a company make their money online already through an eCommerce site (which for the sake of argument) is mobile optimised and already transactional on a mobile phone, why would they need an app?

Deep pockets and physical locations

If we take a large brand, with deep pockets, and a physical location – a supermarket chain let’s say, a mobile application that augments the shopping experience in (and out of store) totally makes sense. Let’s say you shop at Sainsbury’s and you are a frequent wine buyer a push notification to alert you to the fact that your favourite wine is now 25% off six bottles or more (based on your Netcar data) is a use case in great CRM. Now, clearly, Sainsbury’s are not an SME so replicating this would be tricky, expensive and probably have a limited value, especially if you do not have a physical store.

Why and when you should

In our opinion, where we think a mobile application becomes really relevant for an SME is when the smartphone can be used to bridge the gap between the physical and digital world. Here’s a good example, we’re big fans of a local ‘healthy fast food’ outlet about five minutes walk from our office. We particularly like their coffee and also their range of veggie burgers. They’ve just launched an app which has ingrained loyalty feature in it – buy five coffees, scan your phone each time and get the sixth one free. They also have a similar feature for their veggie burger. This place also has a presence on Just Eat, they have a website that is transactional, people can place orders over the phone and, of course, you can walk in. So what this micro business has done has become omni-channel. The app is just a subset of their sales and marketing predominantly based on loyalty and repeat purchase. The app solves the problem of how the store can drive more high margin, small spend visits.

What this place has done, whether they knew it or not, is think and act like a big business. Apps that that simply replicate a website are doomed to fail.

So, our advice to any SME looking to invest in a mobile application would be first. Do you have a specific problem to solve that can be solved using other digital channels? How relevant is mobility to this? In the mobility context, how relevant is native mobility? And, finally, and most importantly, how will this mobility make your customers experience of your business better? If we you can answer all of these questions, a mobile app is probably worth looking into.