May 22, 2012, 4:01 PM

Yes! We have an app for that!

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

I brought a floor lamp from home to my office. Got it in to work, (no easy feat as it required a car trip on a weekend, because I take the subway to and from work), went to turn it on this Monday and the bulb was burnt out. So, I suffered through the usual workday day with my overhead florescent light, writing away about mobile commerce. On the walk to the train home, I stopped by a Walgreens in the downtown Chicago Loop to pick up a light bulb. Mobile must have been fresh on the brain because as I was checking out, I noticed the cashier wearing a T-shirt that promoted the drugstore’s mobile app.

Specifically, it said on the front: Download our app

On the back, the T-shirt listed the specific features of Walgreens’ very robust app:

  • Refill by Scan
  • Quick Prints
  • Weekly Ad
  • Mobile Coupons

Now, I don’t have a photographic memory (particularly after a long day at work), so I actually had to call the nearby Walgreens and ask the cashier to read to me what was on his T-shirt. While on hold, Walgreens used that opportunity to market its app to me again. “Download our mobile app to refill by scan,” the cheesy commercial voice blared in my ears.

This got me thinking. Walgreens has a very nice mobile commerce site, too. Consumers can use the site to refill prescriptions and access prescription history, order photo prints, locate a store or pharmacy clinic, view the weekly ad, check in-store availability and, of course, shop. But there was no mention while I was on hold on the phone or on the T-shirt about the drugstore’s m-commerce site.

And it isn’t just Walgreens heavily peddling its mobile app. While conducting research for the upcoming Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce 300  research guide, I was tasked with visiting several m-commerce sites for travel and ticketing companies to examine each site’s marketing features. Such mobile sites as Hotel Tonight, Marriott, Kayak and Live Nation, all in some way immediately asked (if not begged) me to download the app rather than proceed to the m-commerce site. Live Nation was especially adamant. When I said ‘No thank you, I would rather proceed to the mobile site’, a floating pop-up appeared as I scrolled the home page explaining how easy it was to install the Live Nation app on my iPhone. It was annoying. And it stayed until I closed it.

Each of these companies, mind you, has mobile-optimized sites. It wasn’t like I was going to have to wait five minutes for a heavy e-commerce site designed for PCs to load on my iPhone.

So, why such an emphasis on apps?

The obvious answer is that apps are super cool and can do things that m-commerce sites can’t easily do yet. For example, the Walgreen’s app includes a bar code scanner that allows a customer to use her smartphone camera to scan the code on a prescription bottle to automatically order a refill. In fact, 25% of all online prescription refills stem from the company’s mobile apps, the merchant reports. Consumers can receive prescription notification reminders when their prescriptions are ready to be refilled and when they are ready for pick-up, and transfer prescriptions from another pharmacy to Walgreens by scanning a prescription bottle. The Walgreens app also offers mobile coupons that enable users to scan a coupon bar code at checkout to receive a discount.

Many apps also can use a smartphone’s GPS technology to send push notifications to consumers when they are near a store or when there is a sale on a product a consumer has shown an interest in.

But there’s more to the mobile app’s case than the additional features it can offer.  

45% of smartphone owners with a retailer-branded app on their mobile device visit the merchant’s store more often than consumers without the app, a study by ABI Research finds.

The study, which polled 965 U.S. smartphone owners in December, also finds 40.4% of consumers buy more of a retailer’s or brand’s products if they have its app. 35.8% of app users tell a friend about their store shopping experience and 30.8% encourage friends to visit a store.

The research also shows consumers are picky about the apps they choose to take up precious real estate on their smartphones. Just 25% of the respondents had downloaded a retailer-branded app.

So, as I see it, when a retailer can get a consumer to download its app, it’s basically like being in a relationship. While a visit to m-commerce site is more like going on a date. 

Walgreens and other retailers, it seems, are looking to take the next step.


Comments | 1 Response

  • This is misguided thinking on both the writer as well as the retailers. It's not that the app drives more sales or loyalty, it's that people who download the app are already loyal customers who have a relationship and trust with the retailer. That gives them incentive to download the app. Been counters and clueless marketing staff interprete that gettimg more people to sue the app will therefore increase sales and loyalty. It simply is not true, it's wishful thinking at best. It's also much easier and clearer to sell the concept to management than to explain to them that the app is just going to existing loyal customers when justifying why they spend mone on making it. It's similar to people who "Like" your brand on Facebook. They don't become new or better customers because they clicked like, they click like because they already know and trust the brand. This is why when advertisers look closer at FB results they are being surprised that all those ads and promotions on FB are not generating a ton of new customers, it's just confirming loyalty and encouraging customers to share who they like with others.

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