When native apps don’t make sense

4 min read
Jennifer Aldrich
  •  Dec 17, 2015
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Brands I occasionally shop at keep spamming me with announcements about their new, improved native phone apps.

Some of them are actually kind of cool. SweetFrog’s app includes games for kids as well as a frequent shopper QR code. You pay, they scan your app’s QR code, and you get credit for your purchase. After a certain number of purchases, you get free ice cream.

Who doesn’t love free ice cream? The app is a total win.

Another app I couldn’t live without: mobile banking. How did I ever survive before I could cash a check using my phone?

Driving to the bank is so 4 years ago. If a bank doesn’t have a solid mobile banking native app, I refuse to do business with them. A responsive website isn’t enough for me because I check my account daily (thanks to an identity theft incident that’s left me feeling paranoid), and a native app is more convenient and feels more secure to me.

Now let’s talk about native apps that don’t make sense to me.

Every year during the holidays, I take a trip to my town’s lame mall to buy a bunch of stuff for my family.

“Think about your audience and how they access your brand.”

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I’m not going to download Gap’s native app just to shop there every Christmas.
I’m also not going to download the American Eagle Outfitters app because I buy a gift card there once a year for my sister.

I’m not even remotely invested enough in these brands to download their native apps. That’s space that I could be filling with pictures and videos of my kid and my puppy.

Are younger shoppers downloading these apps and using them often? Could be. On the flip side, I did most of my Christmas shopping on my phone this year to avoid the crowds.

“If your retail site isn’t responsive and you force me to download a native app to shop, I’m not buying your stuff.”

If your retail site isn’t responsive and you force me to download a native app to shop, I’m not buying your stuff and I’ll move along to your competitor.

That said, Sears did something interesting this year that I totally fell for. When I submitted my mobile order, the app popped up a message along the lines of “Download our native app and we’ll give you a $5 credit toward your next order.”

My thought process went, “$5 for downloading a free app?! Score!”

Plus, they got me to sign up for their savings program, collecting my email as part of the process—but it didn’t seem intrusive or shady because they let me accomplish my goal (making my purchase) before hitting me up and letting me opt in. It felt like a natural, unobtrusive move.

“It’s worth your time to conduct user research.”

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Choosing between mobile native apps and responsive web design is a big deal for brands. One size does not fit all.

Sometimes a responsive site just makes sense.Twitter Logo Sometimes you really need to have a mobile native app. Think about your audience and how they access your brand.Twitter Logo

If you can swing both a responsive site and a mobile native app, and they both make sense for your target demographic, more power to you.

Is your target audience a group that will surf the app store to find you? Will they download your native app if you put a giant banner on your lame mobile website that doesn’t contain any content?

Or are they the type that will visit your site on their mobile device and expect to be able to find everything and shop without that annoying download step?

If you’re legitimately not sure which way the majority of your target audience will swing, ask them.

“Don’t assume you need a mobile native app just because everyone else has one.”

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Fire off an email campaign and ask your audience which they’d prefer and why. It’s a big decision for your brand. If you make the wrong choice, you’ll potentially be losing out on megabucks. It’s worth your time to conduct user research.

To sum things up, don’t just assume that you need a mobile native app just because everyone else has one.Twitter Logo Take a hard look at your audience and see if the investment makes sense.

Obviously you have to have a mobile web presence of some sort these days or you’re going to lose out on huge amounts of cash, but don’t assume it has to be a native app if it doesn’t make sense for your target audience.

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