Certain retail apps prove hugely successful while others are found wanting in terms of ease of use and an intuitive user interface. Evidence suggests that, at least amongst millennials, apps are downloaded predominantly because the corresponding mobile website is not as easy to use as the app.

Hallmarks of a good app

The most popular apps are easy to use and combine a high level of functionality with simplicity. ASDA’s app is consistently well-reviewed: it includes a barcode scanner, a store finder, and allows for click & collect. The Mothercare app combines educational content for mothers and their babies, tailored to a pregnancy timetable, and lets the user shop easily. Hassle-free technology goes a long way with consumers.

According to Starbucks, 90 per cent of smartphone spend in its US stores takes place through its app. As such, it is regularly cited as one of the best examples of a well-designed offering. Customers use it to pay for coffee with their phone and, crucially, they can do so very easily and earn popular loyalty points when paying. Amazon’s app is also lauded for how its interface adjusts to the user’s account and for its decently smooth integration across all the user’s devices.

Does the app ad value?

If shopping apps must be seen by the average consumer to be adding value – though the idea of an ‘average’ customer may be out of line with modern ideas of customer-centricity – whether millennials think an app does a better job than the alternatives is an important test. It seems that the best apps allow for easier use in searching, choosing and ordering a product than computers, tablets or mobile web browsers.

So we can be reasonably confident about this conclusion: relative convenience in functionality dictates whether apps are downloaded and used, and therefore whether a shop has managed to grab your attention at the expense of a competitor.

Writing for Retail Info Systems News, Dan Ward advises retailers that if shoppers don’t find their preferred method of payment built into the app – via a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Wallet, to name but a few – it represents a pain point that is enough to make some shoppers look elsewhere. He also suggests not merely duplicating your website; there’s no need for reams of legalese that a user won’t be able to read on a handheld screen anyway. Offerings should be snappy and different enough from the company website for your customer to feel like they’ve obtained something by downloading and using the app.