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"Mobile apps need to create a different user experience that is not necessarily tied to the product, but that enables tasks or fits the customer's lifestyle to keep them coming back to the app," ForeSee's Feinberg says. "If retailers have the resources, they should build an app in addition to a mobile site so they can take full advantage of the features and functionality of the phone. Apps are a great way for retailers to interact with consumers without having them connect to their web site."
ForeSee, which surveyed mobile phone users this summer about their preferences, provides analytics services and technology that measure how the user experience impacts what customers intend to do as a result of a visit to a web site, mobile channel, store or contact center. ForeSee's customer satisfaction scores help show retailers which changes will have the greatest impact on future loyalty and purchase intent so that executives can confidently prioritize the improvements.
As with any new technology, retailers want to be sure to target mobile apps to the proper customer segment to maximize their impact. An obvious initial target is iPhone users as they are the largest users of mobile apps. What sets iPhone apps apart from Android apps is that Apple tightly controls the user experience on the iPhone and tests to make sure that iPhone apps perform well. The popularity of iPhone apps has led developers to create more than 425,000 apps for Apple's smartphone.
There are over 200,000 apps available in the Android Market, a sign of the growing popularity of the software developed by Google Inc. In fact, Android has nudged ahead of iPhone and BlackBerry to take the lead in current smartphone sales in the U.S.
However, there is a basic difference between iPhone and Android when it comes to apps. Manufacturers of Android phones start with a base version of the operating system, then modify the user interface, home screen, keyboard and other features to create their own unique flavor. That means a different user experience from handset manufacturer to handset manufacturer; that is not the case with iPhone, which only Apple manufactures. This has implications for retailers.
"IPhone users are tech-savvy people that know they can count on a consistent, rich user experience. Plus, the iPhone has the largest user base," Americaneagle.com's Opdyke says. "Android users are not as big on app use as iPhone users, but they represent a substantial portion of app users and the number of apps available for Android is steadily increasing. For retailers the place to typically start with an app is iPhone, then Android."
In addition to site design and development, Americaneagle.com provides site hosting, content management, search engine marketing, multi-media, streaming audio and video services.
The growing sophistication of mobile phones means that the days when consumers were simply content to use the device to converse over a wireless network or send the occasional text message are long gone. E-mail access is a must-have feature, and a recent study revealed that consumers open 20% of marketing e-mails on mobile devices. While that trend represents a tremendous opportunity for retail marketers to reach mobile users, it also poses significant challenges.
Just as with the content displayed on a mobile device, retailers need to be sure that their marketing messages format properly on the screen so that consumers can read them quickly and clearly without a lot of scrolling. That means limiting the number and size of images, writing succinct headlines and using fonts that display clearly on the smaller mobile screens.
"It's just as important to pay attention to the design of an e-mail message as it is to the design of a mobile web site," Ai's Piastro says. "E-mail campaigns have to scale properly to the mobile format, which means that retailers can't just push out an existing e-mail campaign to the mobile channel. Mobile campaigns have to be tailored to the channel."
Ai helps retailers create e-commerce and m-commerce sites and social networking strategies, provides rich media such as streaming video, and develops m-commerce apps.
Getting the look and feel of a mobile e-mail campaign right is critical because as consumers become more conversant with mobile technology they are also becoming more discriminating about how they interact with companies through the mobile channel.
"Consumers recognize when a company does not understand the mobile world and that fact is very recognizable, especially in mobile e-mail marketing," says ForeSee's Feinberg. "When the user experience in the mobile channel is not optimized, it not only raises questions in the consumer's mind about how well the retailer understands the needs of mobile users, it potentially degrades their brand."
Part of effective mobile marketing is learning when consumers are willing to read a retailer's e-mails, and when they're not. Because many mobile users have their work and personal e-mail forwarded to their phones, they are drawing boundaries as to when they will check their personal messages during the work day. One of the sharpest they are drawing is ignoring marketing messages received during their morning commute.
"The morning is a time when mobile users are focused on the upcoming workday and are reading work-related messages," says Americaneagle.com's Opdyke. "We are seeing a lot of marketing messages get deleted by mobile users during this time frame. A better time to reach mobile users is during the evening or on the weekend when they have more time to go through non-work-related e-mail. Retail marketers need to understand the situation the mobile user is likely to be in when the message is sent to get a high open and read rate."
Text messaging is an alternative that can break through the growing e-mail clutter on consumers' smartphones. Texting is effective in part because a message causes the consumer's phone to beep or vibrate, immediately alerting her that a message has arrived.