7 E-commerce Brands That Prosper with Mobile Apps

Alex Danchenko

Co-founder, Reteno

October 7, 2022

Mobile apps offer numerous opportunities for businesses. They play an important role in building relationships between businesses and customers and provide a convenient platform to shop on the go. But to run with the pace of this digital world, simply having an app is not enough - there are literally millions of apps to compete with. What are the secrets of the top e-commerce apps?

Perhaps you should consider building apps by example. So, let’s take a look at the mobile success stories of famous brands.

Key Mobile Commerce Statistics for 2023

Mobile internet usage is rising while desktop internet usage continues to fall, and this trend has been steady for years.

Daily hours spent with digital media per adult user in the USA
Source: Mary Meeker

2021 The State of Mobile report has confirmed that we are headed into the most mobile-first environment we have ever seen. Social, photo and video apps are the most downloaded and most used mobile apps. But analysts are positive that any business can survive and thrive in today’s mobile-first economy. 

2021 mobile landscape
Source: Data.ai

Insider Intelligence reports that sales through e-commerce mobile apps hit $359.32 billion in 2021 (up 15.2% from 2020). Analysts expect sales to more than double by 2025 and account for over 44% of retail e-commerce sales in the US. They also note that, after historically suffering poor conversion rates, smartphones and tablets are the key devices driving the e-commerce revolution.

A third of smartphone shoppers use retail apps multiple times a week. Restrictions, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders resulted in one in five users shopping multiple times a day. These new shopping habits are here to stay because the way consumers act has changed fundamentally. 

Why Is a Mobile App a Must Have for an e-Commerce Business?

As convenience and speed are the top priorities for today's consumers, e-commerce apps deliver these possibilities right into their hands. Here are other reasons why people will want you to offer a native mobile app:

  • Consumers prefer mobile applications - Mobile shopping apps are the preferred way to shop for key demographics: 18-29-year-olds, 30-44-year-olds, and consumers with more than four shopping apps.
  • Seamless checkout - Mobile apps help users pay without a hassle, without having to enter their account details every time or being subject to unnecessary redirections.
  • Direct-to-consumer marketing - In addition to selling your products directly to customers, you can also establish a direct communication channel. There are more opportunities to innovate and better control over brand messaging.
  • Access to phone-native features - Mobile commerce can take advantage of five unique features that desktop commerce can’t: voice, accelerometer, camera, GPS, and device pairing. Such advanced tech can offer an even more interactive customer experience.
  • Strong branding - A stand-alone brand allows you to implement any set of distinguishing features, including stronger targetability, brand awareness, loyalty, consistency, and user interaction.

With background information covered, let’s get to inspiring examples of mobile apps.

Seven Successful Companies With the Best e-Commerce Apps

The list of the best mobile apps includes huge successful companies, but all merchants can learn from them. It’s especially important for startups and SMBs to understand how creative and impactful mobile apps can be. So, before building, look at some of the best products on the market.

Amazon

Amazon

Amazon was one of the earliest adopters of mobile commerce. The initial app release was in 2011, and it maintains its spot as one of the most successful apps, leading the pack in terms of innovation and mobile sales.

The app replicates the desktop shopping experience with aplomb. What’s more, app users have access to a couple of unique features. For example, there is a traditional barcode scanner and an alternate scanning feature called Flow, both making it a breeze to comparison-check prices. 

Flow deserves special attention - with this feature, you can identify items without a barcode while shopping in the real world. You just scan the front of the product, and the app will show you the in-app alternative, which is often cheaper.

AliExpress

AliExpress

AliExpress was also an early adopter of using smartphones throughout the entire purchase journey. But the 2011 version of the app wasn’t successful in converting the users, so they added:

  • Cross-platform progressive functionality
  • A multi-device path to purchase
  • A simpler design

For a company that conquered the international market, localizing the app and providing the same quality for different languages is key. And AliExpress does not disappoint in that department.

A few clever additions compared to Amazon’s app are the search feature at the top where people are used to seeing it, the menu with labels at the bottom, and the image search where users can upload images and shop for items from them. Although, we should mention that the engine is not particularly successful in finding all the right products.

Walmart

Walmart

Walmart is the leading commerce app in the US, with over 24 billion sessions in 2021. Here is an interesting revelation: m-commerce makes up 2.8% of Walmart’s total sales. The success of the app lies in seamlessly combining customers’ in-store experiences with mobile ones. 

In 2012, the application was already widely recognized, but the redesign in 2017 made a real difference and brought about the online/offline blend. The newly added features over the last few years include:

  • Regional “trending” sections for popular items
  • Pickup services for customers so that they can shop online and pick up the items in brick-and-mortar locations
  • AI-powered Store Assistant and smart shopping lists
  • Walmart Pay

IKEA

IKEA

In a successful effort to improve and streamline customers’ decision-making and purchasing processes, the company released IKEA Place. The debut of the app in 2017 was a trailblazing event that showed what retailers could accomplish with augmented reality. 

Users can take a picture of their room and virtually install IKEA’s furniture and decor. The true-to-scale 3D models offer the opportunity to “try before you buy”.

IKEA’s app wasn’t always “shoppable”. It was only the 2021 upgrade that allowed users to make purchases directly on the app for home delivery or in-store pickup. Before that, the app functioned as an in-store companion, which is still the most exciting feature within the app even today.

McDonald’s

McDonald’s

McDonald’s uses its app to interact with customers in new ways. The team even implemented Instagram-like features. For example, one of its first in-app promotions in 2013 was to encourage users to take photos of their favorite meals. The benefits were two-fold: firstly, user-generated content tends to be more influential on customers; secondly, it added an interactive element to the user experience.

Another use of the app is advertising menu items that don’t get enough attention. Mobile app users get access to exclusive discounts and vouchers, which is a win-win - users get deals, and McDonald’s pushes low-selling items (or simply brings fresh attention to older products).

Starbucks

Starbucks

While we praised Amazon and Aliexpress for being pioneers in mobile e-commerce, Starbucks figured it out two years beforehand, in 2009. Initially, the app was nothing more than an information hub about nearby coffee shops, types of brews, drink suggestions, etc. Three years later, the team added a loyalty program and an integration with iPhone’s Wallet app. 

Now, Starbucks’s app allows users to scan and pay in-store, order ahead for pickup, locate their favorite barista, search for songs playing at physical locations, and explore exclusive personalization opportunities.

The rewards program isn’t going anywhere, either. In fact, Starbucks has the most regularly used loyalty rewards app among major US restaurant chains.

Etsy

Etsy

Etsy has an all-around great app with a sleek, minimalist design and a streamlined experience packed with features. Some of the most recent changes included:

  • Recommended shops - Allows users to discover new vendors based on their past search history
  • Improved shop search - “Items” and “Shops” have been combined for a single seamless experience
  • In-app notifications - Helps turn most-loved items into most-shopped
  • Buyer appreciation photos - Adds an image carousel tab into customer reviews
  • Chat and phone support - Revamped help center 

How to Make a Successful App

We won’t be covering the stages of mobile app development here, which is a substantial topic on its own. For now, we want to give you a few tips on what to focus on before and during development. 

Here is what makes a successful app:

  • Understand your audience and their needs - Know who will use your app and why they will need it. 
  • Define the scope of features - Consider social sharing, notifications, payments, and integrations essential, but keep in mind the app’s core concept. 
  • Be a problem solver - In other words, be useful. It’s best if your app solves more than one problem. 
  • Choose the right technology - Research the pros and cons of different app types: platform-specific native apps, cross-platform native apps, and hybrid apps. 
  • Integrate offline functionality - App independence allows users to save phone battery, load quickly, and use the app at any time. 
  • Design a simple and intuitive UX/UI - From onboarding to regular use; a user should have a smooth experience. 
  • Maintain high performance - Always be on your toes because the vast majority of users will abandon an app with bugs or glitches. 

Make sure to deliver a scope of consumer-centric features (nice design, stable, reliable workflow, quick access to help, etc.), as well as business-centric features (quick, hassle-free payments, data breach protection, easy update procedure, etc.). 

It’s also helpful to include a range of options for customer convenience. Most well-known examples of m-commerce payment modes include mobile banking, in-app purchasing, virtual marketplace, and digital wallets.

To Sum Up

If you want your customers to buy easier and buy more, going mobile will be the right move. Apps are guided by consumer behavior. They offer a better navigation experience and are less clumsy than websites. And as you’ve seen in mobile commerce statistics, user adoption is only getting stronger. 

Analyze the best mobile business ideas and see what the top app companies have in common. Of course, you shouldn’t copy competitors’ apps - just look at their strengths and adapt them to your business or make them even better. 

Remember that your mobile app should be a natural continuation of other aspects of your business. Even if mobile commerce is or will eventually become your core focus, ensure consistency across all customer touchpoints. 

A mobile app can be a helpful tool for improving direct communication with users. But it’s not only about establishing a constant, real-time connection - for your mobile app to thrive, you also need to analyze a wealth of information. Our team at Reteno can help you make sense of the data gathered from customers. Spot shopping patterns, build detailed buyer personas, and act on our recommendations!

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