If 2016 was the year the world soured on mobile apps—reaching, in the words of Walt Mossberg, “peak app”—then 2017 will be the year they move beyond hype and into real hope as a way for brands to engage their customers.
Ironically, this apparent shift away from mobile, in favor of a more holistic, multichannel view of the customer experience that segments and funnels users between app and web experiences, will cement mobile’s importance.
Making Mobile Pay
Brands have struggled to make apps pay, most literally in retail. Some signs, however, show the tide is turning. For example, we recently witnessed two massive mobile shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both generating $1 billion in sales on mobile devices for the first time, according to Adobe Digital Insights (ADI).
The subtext, however, is less rosy. Using Black Friday as an example, while mobile drove the majority of visits (55%) to retail websites, it only managed to deliver 36% of sales. The gap in visits and sales is a big indicator that the mobile experience (in retail and elsewhere) isn’t keeping pace with the amount of time consumers spend with their devices.
Much of the disparity comes down to underinvestment in the mobile experience. For instance, ADI survey data shows that 32% of mobile shoppers cited lack of “pinch and zoom” as a common frustration. In addition, something as simple as a poor shopping cart experience can result in cart abandonment; to wit, 26% of desktop carts resulted in an order compared with 16% on smartphones. In 2017, expect brands in retail and other industries to significantly ratchet up their mobile investments.
In addition, we’ll see even greater adoption of mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay, to facilitate mobile purchases. Apple Pay transactions climbed 500% (and 1 million new users per week) in 2016, according to Apple, and will continue to boom in 2017. We’ll also see brands experiment with true multichannel experiences. For example, a brand could push a notification to a consumer as she enters a store to remind her that she has an item in her mobile (or desktop) shopping cart that can be purchased at the store. This blending of digital and physical will hit mainstream trials in 2017 and be applied to retail banking and other industries, as well.
Do We Need To Be An App For That?
At the heart of this increased mobile investment is renewed enterprise interest in owning the mobile experience. Though brands once outsourced mobile design to agencies, as Forrester analyst Julie Ask has pointed out, they’re increasingly taking back control. In so doing, they are better able to orchestrate a seamless brand experience across web (desktop and mobile) and app. In 2017, we’ll see an early majority of brands taking steps to connect these touchpoints.
At the same time, brands will become much smarter about their apps. Gartner projects that 20% of enterprises will dump their apps by 2019, arguing that “app stores are crowded and the cost of application support in not only maintenance, upgrades, and customer support but also marketing to drive downloads, exceeds original ROI calculations.” This isn’t wrong, but it distorts the reality of how brands increasingly see their apps.
For one, while we seem to be saturated with apps, consumers still download at least one app per month, and most time spent with smartphones remains app-centric. True, this time tends to be congregated in just a few apps—primarily social apps, such as Facebook, and messaging apps, such as Snapchat—but brands have a massive opportunity to think about apps as part of an experience continuum, rather than a distinct medium in which to engage customers.
As such, next year we’ll see more brands treat the web as their top-of-the-funnel customer experience, using apps as a complementary, premium experience for bottom-of-the-funnel, committed customers. As brands stop trying to force apps to play an omnibus role and instead focus on the experience, acquisition strategies will evolve from scattered efforts to pay for high volume, low-value users to coordinated efforts to move high-intent web users into apps.
To further experiment with this blending of web and app experiences, in 2017, we’ll see early adopters tinker with Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which “describe a collection of technologies, design concepts, and Web APIs that work in tandem to provide an app-like experience on the mobile web.” In other words, brands will increasingly take the mobile web seriously. Responsive sites are now table stakes; in 2017, more enterprises will appreciate the need to build a mobile experience fine-tuned for mobile, with PWAs representing a particularly promising way to nudge casual mobile website browsers into increasingly engaged app users.
Multichannel, But One Primary Channel
Mobile, of course, is not the only channel that matters. The other big trend for 2017 kicked off in earnest in 2016: the multichannel customer experience. Yes, we’ve been talking about this for years, and, yes, brands have become ever more adept at delivering them. But most brands continue to use “multichannel” to mostly mean web. Going forward, we’ll see this profoundly shift to a mobile-first mentality.
More than anything else, this will be the biggest trend of 2017, driving deep, abiding investment in customer experiences that draw data from multiple contexts to engage with customers in their moment of need. While this necessarily will be a multichannel experience, it will manifest itself most often on the most personal of consumer devices: their phones.
In sum, 2017 promises to be a very merry mobile new year, a blend of web and app tied deeply into holistic, multichannel customer experiences. Stay tuned.