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Should Physical Retailers in the UK Shut App Shop?

Smartphone shoppers shun apps for sites

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly central to the shopping experience of many consumers in the UK. More people than ever before are buying on their mobile devices, while using smartphones in-store for various showrooming-type behaviors is common. In terms of consumer engagement with retailers’ mobile sites and apps, those retailers that were conceived digitally are, unsurprisingly, most prominent. More striking than that, though, is the fact that in the vast majority of cases, retailer apps are being shunned in favor of mobile sites.

According to a Marketing Week survey conducted by ICM Research in March 2014, smartphone owners in Great Britain were much more likely to have visited the mobile apps or sites of “digital-first” retailers than of physical retailers. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they’d visited Amazon apps/sites, while 60% said they’d accessed eBay’s mobile properties. While high-street retailer Argos was cited by 49% of respondents and Tesco by 42%, all other—almost exclusively physical—retailers included in the survey garnered percentages under 35%.

Most interesting for retailers, though, was the fact that when consumers did look them up via smartphone, they were much more likely to head to mobile websites than use retailers’ dedicated apps. Only 8% of smartphone owners in the survey said they’d accessed the Boots app, vs. 65% who’d visited the mobile website; the numbers for the “most visited” physical retailer’s mobile property—Argos—weren’t much better, with 24% saying they’d used the app, vs. 54% who had visited the mobile site. Even Amazon’s website was more popular than the app, though the split was much closer, at 45% vs. 38% in favor of the site.

However, while the evidence points toward relative ambivalence among consumers in the UK toward retailer apps, the retailers themselves continue to see apps as significant weapons in their arsenal. According to December 2013 research by Conlumino for law firm TLT, 37.5% of UK multichannel retailers surveyed said they were already using apps, while a further 43.8% were planning to use them in future.

The message for retailers, and particularly those with a large physical presence, is that an app focus may be the wrong focus.

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