We already know why brands should focus on mobile; it’s one of the fastest growing marketing channels. Yet, when Sailthru analyzed more than 250 brands for our second Retail Personalization Index, we were surprised to see that many top global retailers and ecommerce companies struggle with their mobile apps. Worse, 34% of the brands we evaluated don’t have one at all.

During our research, we quickly learned what users don’t want from apps: too many push notifications, personalized or not; and constant crashes and glitches.  The latter is true for a shocking amount of successful brands. Many seem to have created a (dysfunctional) mobile app just to check that box.

To offer their customers a useful experience, brands’ apps must be separate from the product. They must perform a unique service, offering a highly personalized, relevant and shareable experience.

A Smart Personalization and Segmentation Strategy

Brands can’t simply create a mobile app or translate their website into a mobile API. Instead, they must target their audience and reward app users, rather than pushing them the same content and web retargeting that they receive in emails. Integrated into the brand’s app, Urban Outfitters’ UO Rewards incentivizes user behavior in this way, awarding points for downloading the app, enabling push notifications and connecting it to social media accounts.

This can be accomplished with a smart personalization and audience segmentation strategy. Examples include:

  • Seamless navigation between online and offline experiences
  • Shared customer cart between platforms
  • Mobile apps that display a shopper’s first name
  • Integration of mobile and in-store experience, such as rewarding a customer with points or incentives whenever they enter a store
  • Personalized offers and discounts in mobile messaging or an app’s inbox, which feel more intimate than an email offer
  • Retargeted ads that extend from web to the app with curated products and previously browsed items sprinkled in throughout

What Sets the Top Performers Apart

Just three brands earned perfect scores in the Index’s mobile category: Sephora, Ulta and Nike. All three have strong value propositions beyond simply being the brands’ websites recreated in another medium. They all promote personalization, making it easy for users to shop wherever and however they want. Nike has an in-app message center and if an app user is particularly engaged, he’s just as likely to receive product recommendations and order information there as his inbox.

All three apps have easy purchase functionality, housing users’ payment and loyalty information. They also enhance the in-store experience for brick-and-mortar shoppers. By promoting makeovers and salon services, Sephora and Ulta also use their apps to encourage more people to be brick-and-mortar shoppers.

With one of the biggest improvements in score year-over-year, Chairish is another brand that owes its higher score to to the effectiveness of its app. Chairish offers customers an experience they can’t get on email: the ability to view a piece of furniture or art in your actual space. The app offers an additional service component to its products because it understands its audience and delivers the thoughtful, connected mobile experience they want.

Apps Can Keep Retailers Competitive

Sephora proves how quality products coupled with a useful app can predict the future of mobile apps. Its 4.7-rated app tops the list because shoppers report how easy it is to use. In fact, the app might even be easier than shopping in-store, since customers can virtually try on products and learn new makeup techniques through videos and tutorials.

Customers can shop based on skin type and color preference, and honestly, what’s more personalized than that? People with sensitive skin report having an easier time shopping on the app because of its comprehensive customer reviews for each product, something you can’t find offline.

If brands don’t work to personalize on mobile, they will fall behind the curve. Many retailers that scored well on the Index have simplified the buying process for consumers. Still, they aren’t all leveraging their brand on mobile. Mobile apps must supplement strong products through complementing them with a user-friendly, on-brand experience.

Kait Hobson is a former Sailthru intern who worked on the Retail Personalization Index. She is currently a content marketing manager at Kisi.