High-quality mobile apps that drive sales are no longer the playground of Fortune 500 companies. Thanks to the decreasing costs and complexities involved with creating a mobile app, and the myriad of services available to create apps, small businesses can also profit from having their own mobile app. In this article, we will highlight how small businesses are increasing sales revenue through the use of proprietary mobile applications.

Why a mobile app is the right opportunity

Many small businesses already know the importance of having a mobile-friendly website. Being accessible to potential customers is crucial to capturing new sales. Everyone who has ever pinched and zoomed to try to fill out a form or click to a product on a regular website from a smartphone knows how difficult a process it can be. Mobile-friendly websites are more important than ever in 2015. Google recently announced that there were more searches from mobile devices than from desktops for the first time ever, a trend which will certainly continue. As a result, Google recently changed their algorithm to favor mobile-friendly (or responsive) websites. This may or may not have had an impact on the bottom line of small businesses who got caught without having any sort of mobile strategy.  

But mobile websites are only a small part of the smartphone experience. Smartphone owners now spend an average of almost 3 hours per day in front of their mobile screens according to Nielsen. Of that time, 89% is spent using apps. The preference is clear: while having a mobile-friendly site is key for a small business, having an app can deliver a better experience. It provides a controlled environment where the customer feels more comfortable and where a small business can deliver serious value.

Think about it, Nielsen found that smartphone owners use on average 27 different apps. Compare that to the millions and millions of websites on the Internet. If a company succeeds in getting a customer or potential customer to download their app, they have already taken a gigantic step towards breaking through the noise.

How mobile apps drive sales revenue

Like most business decisions, investing in a mobile app must deliver a strong ROI to justify the spend to create it. Mobile apps provide a variety of ways to increase sales revenues to small businesses, sometimes by converting and optimizing non-digital strategies like loyalty programs or customer support. Sometimes the boost to revenue comes from new sales channels, like m-commerce and location-based marketing. Let’s dig down into the specifics.

Tap into the power “m-commerce”

With eMarketer predicting m-commerce (mobile commerce) to rise to almost $120 billion worldwide in 2015, m-commerce has become a powerhouse. Simply defined, m-commerce is the purchase of products or services via a smartphone or tablet. If a small business has any sort of e-commerce element, developing an m-commerce option is crucial to increasing revenue. One of the best ways to do this is through a mobile app since the mobile app can be tailored and optimized to fit all types of smartphones and tablets. A mobile app can also store credit card information, for one-click purchasing in the app or for paying for something in-store. It’s not just for Amazon or Uber either, even basic mobile apps can build in this function to ensure the smoothest possible path to purchase.

Of course, customers need to understand a product before they buy it, and a mobile app is a great way to showcase a product or service. An app can educate a potential customer about the benefits of a product, providing in-app customer reviews, recommendations, and related products or services. Plus, with advanced testing and reporting platforms, a small business can glean extremely useful insights into which product pages are the most effective. Through repeated A/B testing, a small business can increase m-commerce sales by ditching what doesn’t work and focusing on what does work inside the app, from calls to action to navigation and even which product images or colors resulted in the most sales.

Get information directly to the customer with push notifications

Push notifications are an incredibly powerful way for small businesses to reach their customers. Once a customer has installed an app, the owner of the app can deliver information, reminders, and deals to the customer depending on a range of factors like time of day, time since the last visit to the app, or even the weather. Gallup recently reported that smartphone users check their phone at least once per hour. 11% of respondents check their phones every few minutes. A small business who delivers valuable information to their customers in this environment remains at the top of the mind, and customers can use push notifications to receive more information about a product or service, or make sure that they don’t miss out on the latest deals.

Think of it like a hyper-relevant newsletter, where a customer sees the message when they swipe to check their phone, instead of having the message fall into the nether regions of the Gmail promotions tab. It’s a direct access to the customer that a small business controls. Push notifications don’t exist with mobile websites, only from proprietary apps. The caveat is making sure to always deliver relevant content that is not viewed as spam, since turning off the push notification for a specific app can cut off this channel.

Supercharge loyalty programs

One of the age-old tactics for small businesses is the loyalty program. From little keychain barcodes to business cards with stamps on them, loyalty programs are designed to reward customers for their fidelity to a specific business. The advent of the mobile app is a major development in the utility of loyalty programs since everything can be tracked automatically. Instead of sticking a stamp on a card for each sub sandwich purchased (which can easily be lost or forgotten about), keeping track of purchases in an app is simple. A customer can see exactly how close they are to a reward. Promotions can be tied in to loyalty programs to make them personalized to each customer. This maximizes the efficacy of the loyalty program and gives customers a feeling of being cared for and valued. Since it’s almost entirely automatic, it requires minimal effort on the part of the small business.

Encourage referrals and sharing

Small businesses live and die by referrals and word-of-mouth. Social media has opened up a new channel for happy customers to recommend products or services to other potential customers in their networks. A mobile app can encourage customers to share their purchase with their friends, in the moments directly after a sale or even while they are just browsing and learning about a product. Because of the sophistication of some mobile apps, this activity can be tracked and people who refer other customers can earn rewards for their efforts.

By combining referral tracking with push notifications, a referrer could receive a push notification as soon as someone they referred completes a purchase, either to say thanks or to present them with a reward to claim by visiting the app.

Capitalize on GPS and location-based information

Another way that small businesses can leverage mobile apps is through the GPS function on a smartphone or tablet. When a customer is in the vicinity of a small business, a notification can be automatically triggered encouraging the customer to visit the business. This can serve as a friendly reminder of a daily special or can be tied into the loyalty program to entice a customer to stop in while they are physically nearby, increasing the relevance and value of the notification which in turn makes the path to purchase easier.

Optimize inventory management

Mobile apps can be tied into inventory management platforms which can automatically generate deals depending on which products are more plentiful or overstocked. By calling attention to these products in the app, a small business can optimize its inventory and move products that are not selling as well. This is especially important when dealing with products with a short shelf life, like certain types of fresh food. It can reduce waste and help to speed up ordering cycles. Shopify is an example of a digital storefront used by small businesses that can integrate with a host of inventory management platforms.

Improve customer support

Recent data from The Economist shows how popular messaging apps have become: WhatsApp alone handled over 1 trillion messages last year. This is because of how simple and easy it is to send and receive messages versus taking the time to call someone. The same trend is affecting businesses. Having a customer support messaging function built into a proprietary mobile app gives the customer a rapid way to contact the business in a way they feel comfortable with. There are many platforms that can be built into an app to help with customer support, such as Zendesk and Get Satisfaction.  

In addition to sending messages, an app can suggest troubleshooting or FAQ sections that might be able to resolve a problem before a customer needs to send a message. By speeding up the help cycle, an app can improve customer satisfaction, which will hopefully translate into more word-of-mouth promotion and higher product reviews.

Attract new customers

Popular apps that get downloaded frequently gain visibility in mobile app stores like Apple’s App Store. If an app has some inherent function that creates value for all consumers in a market space, that app can go viral, resulting in a slew of new potential customers and higher brand awareness.

Oftentimes it’s about creating a fun experience. Things like clever, simple games or trivia tidbits can bring people back to an app and attract new users who come for the fun but end up converting to customers. Take the Bed Head Hotel app as an example. They created an interactive photo booth app that turned guests’ hair into different styles. It’s fun and memorable, even for people who are not yet customers.

Get out there and build an app

It’s easier than ever for a small business to create their own app. DIY services such as Como and Paptap let business owners drag and drop certain functionalities like m-commerce and messaging into an app. Apps can then be customized to fit the design and feel of the business.

For more in-depth apps, there are many app development agencies that will make an app from scratch. While this option is invariably more expensive than the make-your-own app programs, it allows for complete customization and eventual integration with other platforms like inventory management and analytics suites.

With all of the ways that mobile apps can increase sales revenue for small businesses, it has become too important a strategy for small businesses to pass up. Mobile apps are here to stay, and if your small business doesn’t have one yet, now is the best time to get started. The benefits, and profits, will be just around the corner.

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