Look Beyond Deals For Apps To Improve The Shopping Experience, Says Apptentive CEO

Unwanted push notifications can turn off even the most loyal customer. Apptentive’s Robi Ganguly discusses how marketers can re-think the app experience in 2016 to deliver what consumers really want.

With 71 percent of consumers using mobile apps to browse before making an in-store purchase, “app-rooming” is a very real trend — but retailers who don’t use the technology to add clear value to the shopping experience are likely to lose out on converting that engagement into physical sales.

“I think what it comes down to is that consumers are really asking, ‘how does this [app] make my experience better?’” said Robi Ganguly, CEO and co-founder of Apptentive, an app-focused mobile communication startup backed by Google Ventures. “It’s no longer just about deals.”

GeoMarketing: As we kick of 2016, what trends are you seeing in the app space? And how are retailers responding to changes in customer behavior in order to really drive engagement there?

Robi Ganguly: There are a few things that we’re thinking about as we start the year. The biggest one is figuring out what the customer experience is really like across all channels, but from a mobile-first view; brands are starting to wake up and realize that mobile is the most important driver of conversations with consumers to understand how they feel. Because it is so intimate and personal, it has become the best channel where there’s the most connection with consumers, in the retail space in particular. Apps are an important part of that.

When you’re able to bridge that gap and get a better sense of the customer experience, it’s not just your sales data that’s telling you what’s going on — it’s also your customers actually responding and interacting on their mobile devices. So, on the base level, people are now trying to figure out what customer satisfaction looks like and how that relates to retention, re-engagement, and loyalty.

How can that in-app engagement produce the result that brick-and-mortar businesses really want — higher in-store sales? What retailers do you think are succeeding there, and why?

I think that’s a really good question, because the answer is that the ones who are doing it well are the ones who are thinking about how to augment or improve the in person experience using their apps.

So, for example, a company like Nordstrom, who is really out in front and innovating on this front, is using its app to help consumers make purchases quickly. They don’t have to wait in as many lines. They can shop, they can purchase, and if they’re not going to get something that’s actually available at the store that they’re in, they can actually use the mobile app to order it and have it show up at the store for in-store pick up — because they want to try on the shoes, or whatever they ordered, in person.

Basically, it’s really about the retailers trying to connect the dots between consumers doing research on their couch and then showing up in the store, and doing anything that they can to shrink that path and make it more convenient. That’s one way.

Secondly, Starbucks is a shining example of how to use the mobile experience in the store to actually speed up the purchasing and ordering process. They did this by enabling mobile pre-ordering. It says, “Hey, you can skip the line. Just make your order, and your drink will be ready in five to seven minutes.” This increases the physical capacity of the store; they’re able to handle more customers in a shorter period of time. And for the consumer, it’s just a slam-dunk because it’s so much more convenient for them as opposed to waiting in line. Where retailers win is when they use their expertise to transfer physical experiences into mobile, or augment them, and make that consumer experience that much better.

Over 90 percent of consumers are using their phones in-store for comparison-shopping, for product information, for all kind of things. How do you think about driving the right kind of in-store engagement — notifications, offers, etc. — without scaring off or overwhelming the customer?

I think that the last part is really the hardest piece of the puzzle because we have no shortage of people who want to send shoppers a lot more messages. Retailers say “Oh, you’re here, let me send you a ton more messages.” But the real question is what’s the right time or right way to do that.

If you’re sending those messages uninvited, that can really dampen the customer experience; it scares them away. I think what it comes down to is that consumers are really asking ‘how does this [app] make my experience better?’ It’s not just about deals. And I think when retailers focus exclusively on deals, their store is just propagating the couponing activities that they’ve done for decades, and it’s not really a leap forward in terms of the experience.

What should they do instead? Well, this isn’t retail, but a really interesting example is Alaska Airlines. They’re now using your location when you get to the airport to say, “you’ve gotten here, and we’ll send you a quick note with all the pertinent details. You’re flight is on time, boarding out of gate X, please proceed directly to the gate. Or, your flight is delayed, it’s been moved to gate Y, and be aware that the security line has an excess wait of 30 minutes.” So what they’re doing is not trying to sell you a deal but really providing information. And when that information is quality and relevant, it can [produce customer loyalty] in turn.

Frankly, a lot of the companies that are just focused on, “we know you’re here, let’s send you an offer” are missing out on the augmentation of the experience that can make it feel different and special.

Knowing the importance of enhancing the experience — creating something personalized rather than just sending notifications for deals — what are Apptentive’s major goals for 2016?

I like to think we’ve gotten really good at starting conversations, getting customers to respond. So this year, what we’re going to do with that is expand the capabilities for staring those conversations. Then, we’re going to dive deeper and make more meaning out of those conversations, show how they relate to the trends we just talked about, how they stack up, what’s changing over time. And we think that’s really powerful; it’s giving marketers a real pulse of the customer.

And then the second thing we’ll be doing is thinking a lot harder about the right time and right place for the consumer to give feedback. If someone has just visited a store and was using the app, then it’s a great time for you to ask that costumer about their experience, what happened in the physical store, etc.

It will make a big difference to move from people saying, “well it was fine, I don’t remember it very well, so I’m just going to say it was fine” to a place where people are like, “Oh, I just had this experience, here is exactly what I’m thinking.”

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.