When It Comes To In-Store Mobile Usage, Branded Apps Don’t Matter Much

Consumers browsing in a store are interested in using their smartphones for three things: research, messaging, and listening to music. Gaming, social sharing, and branded apps ranked low in a survey by proximity platform, inMarket.

The importance of having a branded retail shopping app ready to be tapped by consumers making their way through a store may be over-rated.

As shopper marketing surveys continually show, it’s the brands are able to pick up and satisfy consumers’ immediate mobile moments that makes the difference.

‘A Concierage Tool’

That’s the view borne out by a study conducted by proximity platform inMarket, which found that there are three primary use-cases for consumers’ mobile activity while in a store:

  • Researching purchase decisions (55 percent)
  • messaging unrelated to shopping (14 percent)
  • listening to music (12 percent).

The bottom line: shoppers were three times more likely to use their phones for a “purchase-related task” — e.g., planning a meal, conducting a product research/checking out reviews/price comparisons; texting or calling a friend for shopping advice; or looking for loyalty/rewards options — as opposed to other actions.

“With this study, we set out to determine what drives consumers on their mobile devices while shopping — and what’s having the biggest impact,” said Todd Dipaola, inMarket’s CEO. “Today, it’s clear: People aren’t using social or gaming in stores. They’re using the device as a concierge tool to improve shopping experiences and decisions.”

The study examined a sample of 2,500 shoppers — both from its platform audience of 50MM comScore-verified monthly active users and non-platform mobile users in stores — from July through September, 2016.

Source: inMarket
Source: inMarket

What Do In-Store Shoppers Expect?

As more retailers attempt to wrestle with the idea of what’s the “right” omnichannel experience consumers are looking for, the first idea is that a branded app is a must. For one thing, it allows the store brand to keep a tight rein on the look of the app that’s designed to reflect the brick-and-mortar identity. Plus, it allows the brand to maintain control of the loyalty and data associated with its consumers.

But app engagement is a constant battle for limited consumer attention and screen space on a smartphone.

Those are some of the reasons that a mere 8 percent of shoppers were using a retailer’s own app in a respective store, “magnifying retailers’ continued challenge to reach their own customers, under their own roofs,” inMarket’s analysis outlined.

It’s worth reflecting on the idea that there are many levels of interest and engagement when it comes to why consumers pull out their smartphones in a store. While it may be tough for brands to hear, consumers’ phone usage while walking through a store very often has little to do with the brand and its wares.

Messaging unrelated to shopping came in second highest as an in-store use-case — included both SMS and apps, but did not include social media platforms. Social media on its own accounted for just 4 percent of in-store mobile usage.

As for those businesses that tried to rope in consumers this summer by attempting to align themselves with Pokemon Go mania, mobile games and podcasts accounted for just one percent of mobile moments each.

“While social, gaming and podcasts are hugely popular mobile use-cases outside of the store, there are indications that in-store is a different environment where consumers are focused on the shopping task at hand,” inMarket said.

Branded Apps: What Are They Good For?

So the question remains: do brands need a mobile app to drive online-to-offline purchases?

It depends.

What it depends on are the goals for a retailer’s omnichannel program. If it’s to drive loyalty/rewards, provide a distinct enhancement to the in-store experience by offering a virtual salesperson that can help a consumer find what they want as easily as possible in a location, then yes, it makes sense to have an app.

And for the most loyal, regular customers who want to be attuned to any update on the store shelf, the direct online-to-offline connection to the mobile app also makes sense.

With all retailers are dealing with limited resources to some degree, mobile platforms like inMarket and others are certainly capable and eager to provide a digital presence for stores and product brands to connect via beacons.

Ultimately, the top priority for any physical brand that wants to use digital to generate foot traffic and physical sales should be to anticipate and quickly satisfy consumers’ mobile moments. And from running a clear SEO program to real-time geotargeting, retailers can attract those mobile consumers just when their in the right mindset to make a purchase.


About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.