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Is This the End of the Road for Mobile Apps?

While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the importance of mobile and contactless experiences, consumer behavior over the last five years suggests mobile apps are no longer the gateway to better customer experience.

For customer-facing enterprises, some of the most sought-after real-estate is on customers’ smartphone screens – making it a hotly contested arena. However, having an app is looking increasingly redundant even at a time when all businesses are digitally transforming to meet the needs of today’s connected consumer.

Mobile app usage among consumers

For brands to have any hope of growing their mobile market share with loyal, long-term customers, everything points to the fact that not only do they need to capture consumers’ attention, they also need to ensure clients and shoppers are being served in places convenient to them – which doesn’t seem to be inside an app anymore.

An average person has 40 apps installed on their phone. Out of those 40 apps, 89% of the time is split between just 18 apps. That means less than 50% of apps installed are being actively used. So, if you’re a brand dependent on in-app communication to engage with your customers – it’s likely not performing too well because customers prefer more straightforward encounters.

The use of established social media platforms’ own in-app messaging applications for engagement is relatively low, for instance, Instagram (11%) and Facebook Messenger (12%). If popular social channels like these are not being used to communicate through the app with hosts, then it’s no surprise that less well-established brands in other verticals such as retail or hospitality struggle to engage through this channel.

Similarly, research by mobile consultancy Heady.io, uncovered a number of significant customer pain points specifically around mobile transactions, which explain why people are increasingly avoiding mobile apps in favor of other methods to interact with brands. It highlighted that interferences such as mandatory app installs to try a service or to make a purchase were viewed as annoying barriers to consumption rather than fast routes to gratification.

Should you invest in mobile apps

While data overall shows people do still download apps (218 billion apps were downloaded in 2020), it also illustrates they just as quickly delete them, often after a single use.

The uninstall rate jumped significantly in 2020 compared to 2019 too. In the first four months of 2019, Android saw an uninstall rate of 33.8% rising to 52.15% for the same period in 2020. Meanwhile, the average uninstall rate across iOS was 14.9%; the downward trend having resumed after a small uplift (6.8%) at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is bad news for brands who are not only missing out on revenue growth opportunities – in 2020 apps lost $57,000 per month – they are also alienating customers for the long term.

What’s next for customer communications

Global research carried out by Statista with smartphone users at the end of 2020 indicated that the majority of respondents had a clear preference for receiving communications from organizations and service providers via email (46%), SMS (24%), WhatsApp (25%) and by phone (24%) – suggesting that today’s consumer wants to communicate with brands via multiple channels and through easy methods convenient to them.

Going forward, companies must find solutions that look at engagement through the lens of the customer. Omnichannel mobile marketing and digital contact center models are key to addressing this change in customer behavior and expectation, offering consumers the personalized experiences they love, while enabling businesses to differentiate themselves from the pack through exceptional customer experience.

With large tech providers streaming single-use apps to your phone or actively nudging developers to store parts of their apps in the cloud, together with evidence that customers prefer the immediacy of chat apps to engage and buy from brands, we may have just entered the beginning of a future where installation becomes obsolete and the border between “website” and “native app” is blurred.

This is a future without apps, and it promises to be one of ultimate simplicity and elegance.

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