Procurement 2 November 2016

Mobile apps: The costs and rewards of keeping customers engaged

mobile apps
Only 16 percent of mobile users would try an app more than twice after failing the first and second time

As most of us now use our smartphones in every area of our lives, the mobile apps industry is beginning to mature. Here, Yoram Mizrachi, founder and chief technology officer at Perfecto, considers the essential principles that create a successful user experience in mobile apps.

Rather than just building and launching applications that will attract a user base, developers and quality assurance (QA) teams are now focused on retaining and engaging the most valuable user in order to maximise revenue opportunities from their brand’s app.

While the costs of developing a new app can be high, costing £50,000 to £70,000 on average, so is the payoff, and so it is imperative that developers maintain flawless user experiences to engage and retain users.

Still, the process of catching a loyal user is becoming increasingly difficult in an extremely competitive market.

Capturing the users’ attention

First, a potential customer must discover a particular app among the millions of other mobile and download it. When opened, it is crucial that the app works well or the brand will lose most of its audience.

Today’s mobile users often do not have a lot of patience. For example, only 16 percent of mobile users would try an app more than twice after failing the first and second time, according to research from Compuware.

While users are certainly fastidious, they are also becoming more focused on their favourite mobile apps, meaning that they spend more time in fewer apps. This trend is driving developers to create stronger retention strategies such as rapid updates and refinements of apps and user interfaces to keep them fresh.

On average, Android mobile apps are updated every 28 days, and iOS mobile apps every 59 days, according to research from the University of East Anglia. As mobile captures a higher percentage of the global digital economy, consistent engagement with mobile users is now a requirement.

Numbers to consider

  • The UK’s mobile commerce market is forecasted to reach £40 billion by 2019
  • The global mobile payment market was forecasted to hit $216 billion in value this year, according to analyst firm TrendForce
  • Digital ad spending on mobile grew 60.3 per cent last year to £2.63bn, according to research from the UK Internet Advertising Bureau
  • Loyal users not only consume advertising and make transactions, but also influence sales across channels. Forrester estimates that mobile influenced $1tn in spending at brick-and-mortar retailers in 2015

To capitalise on these growing opportunities and stand out from the crowd, an app must deliver a high quality user experience. But what exactly makes a mobile user interface good or great?

Making mobile apps invaluable to users

Forrester recently conducted a survey of 1,000 users of mobile apps to better understand the characteristics of good and great mobile apps.

The two most important features are user interfaces that do not freeze and do not suck battery life and memory.

The third most important factor is that the app must save the user time. “Saving time”, though slightly less definitive than preventing app freezes or draining battery life, requires fast load times and intuitively laid-out user interfaces.

The Forrester study also quantified the value of these features. Good mobile apps are defined as those that possess key app functions such as “does not freeze or crash”, “does not suck battery and memory” and “saves user time”, and great apps as ones that are flawless in the execution of these functions.

Survey respondents reported that great apps generated $45.6m in direct revenues and good apps generated $9.5 million. Clearly, there is a monetary difference.

Adequate testing is the key to creating “good” apps, but to be “great” or flawless, developer and QA teams need to test across various user scenarios, including:

  • Ensuring that apps do not sap battery life or crash when users have their favourite apps open while talking on the phone and entering a tunnel
  • Making sure that the app will render correctly when it is downloaded to an outdated or unpopular smartphone
  • Most importantly, development testing teams need to test on real devices and under conditions that mimic all the most common user scenarios

In short, user-condition testing is what will make an app great, and it does not stop with a successful app update. Development testing teams also need to constantly conduct user condition tests.

As update cycles accelerate, development teams must work to tighter deadlines and therefore the risk of pushing out bad code increases, negating all the hard work that has been done to perfect an app. Integrating testing early and throughout the entire development cycle reduces these risks.

As the quality of the average mobile app continues to improve, poor-performing apps will look even worse by comparison. Apps cannot stay in the “poor” category long without hurting the brand and overall bottom line.

In order to ensure app quality and maintain a positive brand image, development teams must adhere to tried-and-true user-experience design practices such as fast load times, personalised content and responsive web-design.

However, understanding your target audience and their habits plays a key role here, as apps must be designed with your most valuable users in mind.

The marketing and development teams must work together to ensure success, as user profiles must be integrated into the development and testing of app releases. If done correctly, this will take an app from good to flawless, and bring revenues to the next level.

Yoram Mizrachi is founder and chief technology officer at Perfecto.

Don’t miss our guide to the best apps for collaboration in a small business.

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