Once you’ve gotten users into your app there are two metrics you want to increase. Average session time and average number of sessions per day or week or month, whichever is relevant for you. First of all you need to be able to measure these metrics and there are some great options out there. Here are 3: Mixpanel, Flurry, and Google Analytics. I won’t go into how to integrate them into your apps here but each site has great documentation on how to go about it. So how do you increase your average session time? (and no the answer is not to slow down your app.) Having sufficient content is a prerequisite but I hardly see that as a problem for most retailers. Retailers have coupons and events and promotions and list-building features and the ability to find their nearest store or read product reviews, etc. There is enough content there but retailers’ app reviews still are pretty low. So how might we increase engagement with the content you already have?
Even though it may seem counter intuitive making each individual interaction inside the app shorter is a good way to drive longer user sessions if each interaction has some reward or even just a promise of an award. Apps like facebook, instagram and tinder do this well. Yes each app has thousands or pages of content. But you don’t see it all at once. The content is provided to you in a very compartmentalized way and each page or post takes about 1-5 seconds of interaction at best unless typing is involved but even at that interactions tend not to exceed 30 seconds in length.
Think about the weekly circular that grocery stores put out. Presenting the circular in the same layout as printed-paper to the user is a terrible experience. Ideally you would have enough data on your shoppers to know which deals they’d be most interested in and which deals might be attractive cross-sell or upsells to them. If you had a way to show these deals first and allow users them to add them to a digital coupon book you could increase average session time by making it easy and rewarding to dig through coupons.
The same thing goes for list building. Many retail apps allow users to build shopping lists from inventory products. Kroger’s app does this and gets close to doing this right. But they’ve got a few key problems that really kill the experience. It’s another case of having the right content but the wrong interactions. Let’s keep looking at Kroger’s app to learn some lessons. First of all the interaction’s are all too slow. There are noticeable lags between pages, this is an implementation problem that the users suffer for. Each page lag is a little bit of punishment for the user. Remember the competition for list creation is pen and paper. Trying to make it more complicated and slower than pen and paper is a sure way to make sure people get a bad impression of your app. Also the details page of every item has a spot for a photo and a nickname. Again these features solve problems that users don’t care about. And every feature, textfield, or button on the screen eats up screen real-estate. Mobile user interfaces should be as clean as possible, if you’re not sure if you need a visual element or not then you don’t need it.
If I were hired to fix this area of Kroger’s app I would strip out half of the data fields. Then change whatever data storage strategy they’re using to speed up page navigation. Additionally, as a bonus, every time an item gets added to the list there should be a little visual reward. Maybe an animated check-mark or even just a highlight animation. It doesn’t have to be cheesy but it should be visually distinct. Lastly on the top level page for lists there is screen real-estate used for allowing you to view your coupons, refresh the page, access the FAQ, provide feedback and whole table row for adding a list item when the standard place in the toolbar is left empty. This is the epitome of clutter and doesn’t directly help the user accomplish the task of managing their lists. It creates mental friction, which punishes the user for using the app.
Smooth and Quick
All interactions should be smooth and quick. Bonus points for adding little animations. If you have anyway of rewarding the user you should do it randomly. There was a study, I can’t remember who it was conducted by, that tested the influence of punishment and reward on the affection of dogs to humans. There were 3 groups. Some dogs we given affection during any interaction with the human. Some were shunned for attempting interaction and some we’re both randomly shunned and show affection. Of the 3 groups the group with the random affection/punishment was the most attentive to the humans. The anticipation of reward without guarantee is a powerful motivator. This is what keeps Las Vegas in business. Most casino games are designed around random rewarding. If you can figure out someway to mix this into your app’s daily usage you will see more repeat usage and longer sessions. What are some way’s retailers can do this in their apps?
Loyalty points and exclusive coupons are a great way to go. Reward them randomly for doing things you want them to do. The trick is that you need to make it so that with each interaction you want to reinforce there is a small expectation of reward.
Another technique is to award “trophies” for usage milestones. These are pretty insignificant and can be tricky to do right but can drive more usage for the right kinds of individuals. Some people feel compelled to finish things. If you show them that they’ve added 4 coupons to their coupon book and when the hit 10 they hit a milestone, some people will dig and add the extra coupons just to hit the milestone and maybe earn a distinction of some sort. Yes the distinction and the milestone are both arbitrary and meaningless but the strategy does drive usage for certain people.
Given somebody’s preferred store you can rank them on lists where they happen to stand out given some statistic. Let’s day a college kid picks up food daily on her way home after class, she’ll likely be in the top 5% of shoppers for frequency of visit. You might as well reward her for that with a digital trophy. New parents with twins buying lots of diaper, toys and formula? They’ll be in the top 5% of shoppers buying baby related products. Give them recognition. A little trophy, it shouldn’t be overly serious, but it just a hat tip to the slightly unusually characters that shop at your store. If someone has lots of pets and buys a lot of pet products, a little “Pet Champion” reward goes a long way. Then when the decision comes to “Should I get catfood & litter this week at PetsMart or the grocery store” it’ll be easier to decide to buy from the grocery store. You could give the trophy to the top 5% of shoppers who purchase pet food. Aside from the initial development costs, this costs you nothing and earns more loyalty. Delivering the trophies in app also drives user retention.
These ideas don’t cover the entire range of possibilities but give you an idea of what’s possible. It may sound like a large amount of work to develop this into your app and backend. Your developers are sure to tell you as much. But with proper planning and product management this can tackled without too much of a problem. Some customers will think the idea is stupid, some one care, and some will love it. For the ones who think its stupid you’ll have made sure to add an opt out so it’s a nonissue. For those who don’t care, maybe they’ll be converted after earning recognition for doing what they’re already doing. For those who like it you’ll have just gone a long way to earning them as more loyal customers who say good things about you and feel served by you. That is the whole goal with your digital effort after all.