In its second-largest acquisition, Amazon buys the company for $970 million.
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"When we do an e-mail we see more than five times the number of downloads compared with a normal day," says Hennion of GNC. "Part of the reason our customers are more likely to download the app is because we are already seeing substantial e-commerce traffic, 20%, going through the mobile site. Our customers are far above average in mobile terms, and it's a natural extension to get them to migrate over to the app."
ShopNBC.com sends out e-mail promotions dedicated to its mobile channel, and makes clear to consumers that if they don't have the app they may be missing deals.
"What we say is you don't have to risk missing out on a great deal if you are not near the TV," says Carol Steinberg, senior vice president of e-commerce, marketing and business development at ShopNBC.com. "They can get everything on their phones. We're very consistent in marketing about our shop anywhere message."
Jockey says e-mail marketing is critical to ensuring customers know about the app and download it. "What is it that reminds you to go check Facebook? You either have the Facebook app pushing a notification or more than likely you get an e-mail," says Tim McCue, director of e-commerce at Jockey. "The key is e-mail."
Catalogs and stores
Also important, though, are channels other than e-commerce and m-commerce. If a retailer has a catalog or physical stores, it should be placing promotions for its app throughout these venues so customers who prefer to shop via catalog or in a store understand there's a new way to shop, says Smith of Jockey.
"We're going to do a larger rollout of the app once we get through the initial launch phase; the big promotion will come in our July catalog and at that time in our stores," Smith says. "In stores we'll have signs that stress 'There's an app for that,' and that customers can shop the entire Jockey catalog from their smartphone or iPad. We want to make sure things are rock solid before we do a big promotion."
ShopNBC.com has the added benefit of being able to promote its app through its television network. It not only continues its shop anywhere message but emphasizes that customers can use the app in lieu of other channels. "A show host will regularly say go to your mobile devices or the Internet if phone lines are busy due to high demand for products," Steinberg says.
But retailers should try going beyond traditional promotional vehicles and experiment with new tactics that make use of mobile technology, advises Ezra of MacroView Labs. Apps lend themselves to in-store shopping where consumers, for example, can scan bar codes to pull up product information and videos, or use location-based services to get to the store in the first place and then perhaps "check in" through an app like Foursquare or Facebook Places that may offer discounts or rewards. Retailers should promote their apps to these customers who already have a smartphone in hand, Ezra says.
"It's important to have signs in stores, but signs don't have to just take the form of traditional big banner posters—you can also be creating specific calls to action within the store," he explains. "Have something like a 2-D bar code in a store so a shopper with a bar code reader can hold up her phone and find out what's going on in the store or unlock a special code she can use only right there."
A two-dimensional bar code, a vertical and horizontal image that can contain much more information than a standard 1-D bar code like the Universal Product Code, can also link the smartphone-toting shopper to the app store page for the retailer's app, he says.
Fostering regular use
Once a customer has a merchant's app on her smartphone, it's up to the retailer to make sure she uses it on a regular basis. She's not going to use the app unless the merchant gives her a good reason, and she may even forget it's on her smartphone if she has an abundance of apps.
Partly to keep its app top of mind, GNC created a special feature for its app that reminds customers to take the supplements or vitamins they purchased.
"We do this for two reasons," Hennion says. "The first is to be an added benefit that gives them a way to keep track of exactly what they are taking and remind them they can't miss any. The second is to encourage repeat engagement. We don't want an app that somebody installs, uses the first day, and then gets lost in clutter. Our bar code scanner, the deals, the regimen reminders, these all give the customer a reason to keep interacting with our app."
The retailer pushes out these reminders, rather than waiting for the consumer to come to the retailer or use the app. The retailer can alert the consumer of the message by way of a small badge that appears on the app icon, a sound, a window that pops up with a message, or a combination of the three.
In addition to window messages with reminders, GNC sometimes pushes out a coupon that can be used in the mobile app. But while GNC is experimenting with push, some merchants hesitate to use the feature.
"The only reason to push out is if you have something compelling to say—you have to be careful not to get into the 'Boy who cried wolf' situation," says Livingston of The Golf Warehouse.
New and cool
But when a merchant does have something compelling to say, it needs to shout out loud. Perhaps the most fundamental method to get customers to continue to use an app is to introduce new—and ideally cool—functionality. They'll get a reminder from their app store that there's an upgrade available, and if the new functionality provides something that is of great utility or that wows the consumer, the consumer is more likely to use the app over and over again, mobile experts say.