An App’s Product is the App Itself: How to Win Over Mobile App Users

How The Power Shifted From Companies to Consumers

Anyone over the age of twenty remembers L.L Bean, Sears, and Lands End as being the purveyors of remote retail commerce. Their catalogues were one of the only ways consumers could buy clothing that was not proximate to their location. This left the customers at the mercy of their geography, forced to buy from whatever storefronts were immediately accessible. Retailers controlled everything from the product messaging to celebrity endorsements. Consumers didn’t have the means to compare peer reviews instantly – resorting to take advertising at face-value (a world pre-Yelp). The power was in the hands of the businesses.

However, at the advent of the Internet, technology began to empower users. Today, information and the ability to buy from anywhere in seconds and on the on-go via mobile phones has dramatically shifted power to the customer. We now expect to check our bank account balance, get directions, read reviews, order food, buy anything instantly, check the number of steps walked in a given moment, and more, on our phones. Did you know on average, Americans spend about five hours a day on their phones? Forrester calls this the “Mobile Mind Shift,” which refers to the expectation that you can get what you want in your immediate context.

Emarketer estimates that nearly 170 million US consumers will install at least one app on their phone, that number is up 150 million US consumers the year before. This means that an astonishing numbers of consumers will be mobile mind shifted, expecting to be able to do anything, anytime, anywhere.

Convenience: The Mobile Golden Word

The Mobile Mind Shift has resulted in high churn rate, and an incredibly competitive app market. Consumers expect immediacy, simplicity, and context; when these three requirements aren’t met, they simply find your competitor.

In general, consumers are task-oriented on mobile, and expect you to leverage contextual information to simplify the process of completing said task. I don’t log into my airline app just to browse; I log in to get my boarding pass to show the TSA agent. I don’t log onto my mobile banking app to review new credit line options; I log in to deposit a check and check my balance.

An app is not a mini PC; it is its own channel that lends itself to unique usership. And above all else, mobile users seek convenience. There are numerous facets of convenience: there’s user interface, ability to complete tasks, gathering contextual information so that users don’t have to engage in useless back and forth with agents, there’s speed, and there’s helping your user quickly and painlessly when they encounter problems.

Building mobile relationships is entirely dissimilar to building relationships on any of the other channels that companies have previously used. Think back to the origin of remote consumer access: a Lands End catalogue. In this case, users would start by ordering the catalogue, flip through a physical magazine, then call a number, connect with a Sales rep, and place an order. To order a shirt, the consumer had to go through three distinct channels, whose only point of connection was the brand.

On mobile, though, users expect to do everything within the app. From accessing the catalogue, to ordering, paying, tracking shipping, and leaving a review– all can now be done in one place, and from anywhere (we’ve all been guilty of a little online shopping during a tedious business meeting). The mobile device lends itself to ultimate convenience: buy anything, anytime, anywhere.

What it Means to Make Your Mobile App Convenient

If users are loyal only to that which is most convenient, one might wonder if all that matters these days is product. And in fact, to a certain extent, that is all that matters.

25% of mobile apps are only used once after download. And whether it’s user interface, a buggy app, poor FAQs, or simply that the app does not deliver on its promise, a user’s decision to abandon an app after install is directly tied to whether or not the product was satisfactory.

For apps, product is a peculiar entity. While the “product” may be a flight, when using an airline app, the “product” includes searching for a flight, booking, accessing boarding pass, and receiving updates. An app’s product is the app itself.

Take, for instance, Amazon’s Mayday Button. Though ostensibly a customer care outlet, it is actually a product feature, like Siri for iPhones.

“To get customer service, customers don’t want to break the frame of their experience, whatever that experience is,” said Ian Jacobs, senior analyst at Forrester. “Gamers don’t want to leave their games to find an FAQ. Banking customers don’t want to leave the bank just to call into a contact center. And customers don’t want to leave the mobile app they are using to get customer service.”

This is a rather massive mental shift for many companies. After all, no previous medium has required that every facet of the business lie within it. But on mobile, users expect to be able to use apps to complete every request relating to the brand that they might have. Though it’s ridiculously played out to mention Starbucks at this point, it’s worth noting that their app is successful because it has allowed users to do everything they previously did via other mediums, on their phone.

Creating a convenient experience is about allowing your users to do everything they previously did, in one place, without ever having to leave the app.

What Users Want

1. Contextually Relevant Content

Context in mobile acts using what is known as “push” delivery; instead of forcing users to enter their location, request, type of device, etc, a contextual app knows the user’s preferences and context (geographic and otherwise), and then pushes out the desired results.

Happy birthday push notification for contextually relevant app content

Take a mobile banking app, for instance. If, 90% of the time I open my banking app I deposit a check, why not make this screen my home page, or one click from my home page. Or, take an airline app: if I open it up the day that I am traveling, I should see a page welcoming me to the app and offering to pull up my boarding pass. The app should know that I am about to go to the airport, and that when there I will need to quickly pull up my boarding pass.

Contextually relevant content does include some of the tenets of personalization that we all learned for email marketing, but, at it’s core, it is again a product iteration. While being greeted by name (or, in a mobile game, by persona) is great, what users really want is to be able to conveniently access what they need most from that app.

2. Customer Service

Customer service on mobile is entirely unique, in that users no longer have to switch mediums to access your company. Be it via FAQs, in-app messaging, in-app video chat, or proactively reaching out to customers whose profiles indicate they need help, providing customer care to mobile users is the epitome of convenience.

Helpshift conducted a study of over a billion mobile app users, and found that 1 in 5 users seeks help on mobile. Accessing customer care on mobile is particularly important for younger customers, with 77% of 18-24 year olds using their smartphones at least once a month to contact customer support.

As noted above, though, regarding Amazon’s Mayday Button, providing customer support is a product feature. It’s not enough to simply throw in some static FAQs and a number to call. Users want to be able to solve their problems in-app, quickly, and conveniently.

In a study done by Compuware, they found that the majority of mobile users have encountered app issues in the recent past, including freezing, crashing, slow launch, not launching, or simply not living up to users’ expectations. Basically, every app screws up, and users are used to these screw ups. However, though 79% of users will give an app a second chance, while only 16% will return for a third. It seems that mobile users have truly taken the “Fool me once” adage to heart.

What this means, is when you inevitably mess up (or, for one reason or another aren’t living up to a customer’s expectations), it’s imperative that you have stellar customer service to both do damage control, and proactively address problems users may be having. Make it simple and easy for customers to get help, and they’re likely to forgive the fact that they ever needed it in the first place.

3. Integrated Payment

Everything, including payment, should occur in-app. Are we sounding like a broken record yet? Consumers are accustomed to payments being easy, simple, and fast; nobody wants to enter banking or credit card information anymore.

Paypal integrated one tap mobile app screen

Paypal is currently dominating the digital wallet service— and the reason isn’t because they have a great app. It’s because Paypal integrates with practically any app or service out there. Want to order Chinese food at 3am on a Saturday, but too lazy/sleepy to enter a bunch of credit card info into the Domino’s website? Just log onto Grubhub and press the Paypal button.

Offering in-app payment, (where payment info is securely stored) is paramount to creating a convenient customer experience. Think about it: who would want to take Uber if you had to enter your payment info every single time you requested a ride? Or even, if you had to pay directly in the car? Might as well take a cash-only Taxi. The success of the app largely rides on the ease to use a simple payment option.

With services like Paypal, Venmo, or even direct deposit, users are accustomed to the app saving their banking information, so it only takes a matter of seconds to complete the intended task. Once again, Amazon has done a terrific job of integrating customer-centric features into their app: with their one-click checkout button, users skip the numerous pages that usually accompany making a purchase, and simply get the product paid for and delivered to their default address with one click.

The ability to pay in-app is just another way for brands to make the app experience seamless. Users can browse, buy, pay, and track their purchases all in one place, and they can do it from anywhere: that’s what mobile is.


Every facet of a customer’s interaction with your company and product should be available through your mobile app. Gone are the days of switching from medium to medium to complete a task or make a purchase. What Forrester has called the “Mobile Mind Shift” is occurring at a rapid rate, and companies need to meet this mental shift by providing their product and all its associated facets on mobile.

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