February 15, 2017, 2:15 PM

Why an app makes sense for a small e-retailer

For less than $50 a month, e-retailer Heels and Lipstick Couture offers shoppers a basic app.

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A mobile app doesn’t have to be a large investment.

Women’s clothing and shoes e-retailer Heels and Lipstick Couture is a small online retailer that generated about $150,000 in online sales in 2016. The retailer, which has one physical store, generates 90% of its sales online, says Tewanza Williams, owner of HeelsandLipstickCouture.com.

Williams says she launched an app via mobile technology vendor Zuzapp at the end of November to bring another facet to her business. One of the tools in the app is called “tap ‘n’ try,” which allows shoppers to superimpose a product image—a necklace, for example—onto a picture of themselves stored on the smartphone. A shopper uses her fingers to adjust the product size to make it fit on the photo properly. While the products are not to scale, they give shoppers an idea of how the product will look.

Zuzapp charges retailers $79 per month for its “off-the-shelf” app, or if a retailer signs up for a year it costs $49 per month. A retailer fills in a ready-made template with such features as a main image, social media sharing buttons and shopping pages. It took Heels and Lipstick Couture two to three weeks to deploy the app, Williams says. She heard about the app from her payments processor NCR Corp., which works with Zuzapp.

A non-custom app, however, is good enough for Williams:  Heels and Lipstick Couture’s sales increased at least 35% year over year in the first two months since the app’s launch. Williams knows the mobile tool is working because she can track shoppers who start in the app and then finish their purchase on the web, she says.

Having an app also aligns with the e-retailer’s mobile-focused customers, given that 60% of Heels and Lipstick Couture’s online sales are made on a smartphone. Plus 60% of customers are repeat buyers, which often is an indicator that shoppers will download and keep a retailer’s app on their smartphone.

Williams marketing the app via emails and on Facebook and Instagram. To encourage app downloads, Williams also promoted the app’s tap ‘n’ try feature and offered a 50% discount code to any consumer who uploaded a screenshot of herself to media social network with a Heels and Lipstick Couture product digitally imposed on the picture. About 60 customers participated in the promotion, and Williams considered it a success.

The app has a few hundred downloads so far, Williams says. Sales are generally slower in January and February, and Williams is waiting for her spring inventory to come in to heavily market the app and developing a marketing strategy for it.

While basic, non-custom apps are not ideal, they could be the right solution for small retailers, says Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at research firm Forrester Research Inc.

“Just looking at mobile as a channel and shrinking down desktop and putting it on a small screen doesn’t give you a lot of lift, but it’s better than nothing,” Ask says.

She also cautions retailers not to compare the sales results of simple apps with more robust, customized apps from large, chain retailers. 

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