There are a zillion apps out there. Only a few make it your mobile phone. Shelley Singh recounts the cutthroat struggle among apps to find space on your phones
Three weeks ago, all the 5,000 employees of Snapdeal, one of the big four diversified e-commerce companies in India, were asked to drop everything and experiment with its two-year-old app. They checked for bugs, tested ease of use, noted the time to complete transactions and compared the features with those of rival apps. It was a concerted effort aimed at suggesting ways to improve the shopping experience on the app, which would go on for three hours, and result in an avalanche of feedback. A thousand engineers then worked 24 hours non-stop to overhaul the app -the first major upgrade since launch. The rebooted app, said Anand Chandrasekaran, chief product officer, Snapdeal, “is the lightest e-commerce app, stable (read, no crashes) and performs better“.Conversions, industry jargon for downloads, of the app have since jumped 10 times, according to Chandrasekaran, whom Snapdeal recruited from Bharti Airtel in June.
If the entire company was involved in the app’s reboot, it was with good reason.Snapdeal competes with a host of ecommerce companies such as Amazon, eBay , Flipkart, Myntra, Jabong and a phalanx of smaller players. Even diehard shopaholics would not have the apps of all these companies on their smartphones.They would have two. Maybe three.Snapdeal was vying for a coveted space -the mobile phone screen.
In overhauling its app, Snapdeal has come to represent the growing focus of businesses on apps and their scramble to coax smartphone customers to turn users. Fashion etailer Myntra sells its wares only on an app. In June, Facebook launched an app called Facebook Lite targeted at low-end smartphone users. In recent weeks, Urban Ladder and Foodpanda have refreshed their apps while a revamped Makemytrip app will be launched in two weeks.
It is not hard to see why .Competition for squeezing into a mobile phone is intense jostling for that limited space are nearly 3 million apps! Only about 20 have a shot at making it, depending on a user’s penchant for news, staying connected via the social media, travel, music etc. And there is no telling if they will last on a phone.The flavour of a season dock in -Candy Crush replacing Angry Birds -but they are dispensable. It’s virtually the luck of the draw for the rest.
Ninety percent of apps are deleted, according to Rajan Anandan, vice-president and managing director, South East Asia & India, Google. “Apps that users retain are for daily use.“
Globally , only 27,334 of the 2.9 billion apps have been downloaded more than one million times, according to Uninstall.IO, a mobile analytics company that counts CommonFloor, Gaana and Snapdeal, among others, as clients. “Users don’t like them or don’t want them. Competition is brutal and shelf life is very short,“ said Alok Mishra, founder, Uninstall.IO.
It’s a Slugfest
The stakes are evidently high. The Indian e-commerce segment, valued at $7 billion in 2014-15, is expected to grow to $65 billion by 2020, according to Technopak, a retail industry consultancy . Nearly 65% of the e-commerce traffic at present is already on mobiles, a combination of mobile browsers and apps. But by 2020, about 80% of e-commerce transactions will be done via apps, according to Pragya Singh, associate vice-president, retail and consumer products, Technopak.
Already , apps contribute 75% of Snapdeal and Flipkart’s traffic.
Shankar Nath, senior-vice president, Paytm, the online payment platform and e-commerce app, said the website versus app contest is analogous to winning a battle versus winning the war. “For a business to have a bigger footprint, it has to be mobile (app) focused.“
True, but how does an app maker attract users? Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder, Paytm, said unlike the web where search engines could easily browse a site and index, apps are closed systems.“Apps are like closed gardens, and only a user and the app to be searched know about the data inside.“
The good news for app makers is people are spending more and more time on their smartphones -almost three hours a day in India and also use it for everything from gathering information to shopping. Apps, with their improved features, feed their needs. “Apps are superior. They leverage many more features of smartphones like gyroscope, sensors, locations and other system data,“ said Sharma.
Users, sadly , need more con vincing. Three factors typically decide a user’s preference for an app -frequency of use, memory or space it consumes and relevance.
To increase frequency of use, app makers are trying to increase the engagement with users. Take Makemytrip.com, an online travel company . The rarity of holidays -usually once or twice a year -rules out people having a travel app as a fixture on phones. To fix this handicap, the new Makemytrip app will notify users on last-minute hotel bookings, discounts and help book cabs as well.
“Our focus is to earn the right to be on users’ phone every day ,“ said Anshuman Bapna, chief product officer, Makemytrip.com. Some services such as like flight delay information and the ability to book cabs are best delivered via an app, according to him.
Even apps that are already engaging with users -like Flipkart’s which has been downloaded more than 10 million times -are turning to technology to improve experience. A user has to simply point the app at a shirt to get similar options on Flipkart he can purchase.This technology called visual search was introduced two weeks ago, said Punit Soni, chief product officer, Flipkart.
Fashion etailer Myntra, which recently switched fully to apps, will introduce visual search in six weeks. The Myntra app has been downloaded 12 million times, with frequency of usage 7-8 times a month per customer and amount of time spent at 80 minutes a week, according to P Komapalli, head, e-commerce platform, Myntra.
Nitin Chugh, head of digital banking, HDFC Bank, said an app can stay on a phone if it is continuously used. He believes banking apps have perpetuity compared with say, gaming apps. HDFC Bank is hooking consumers to its app by enabling them to pay bills or even shop. It has partnered e-commerce players like Flipkart; users can make purchases from their websites using the bank’s app.
Light & Fast
As space is a constraint, developers are looking to make apps lighter. App makers cannot afford to lose sight of even upgrades and notifications that use data, which means users delete apps they rarely use.
Google’s Anandan believes a 1-3 mb app is perfect. By that reckoning, most apps in India are `obese’. Snapdeal is 6 mb, Makemytrip.com is 10 mb, Foodpanda is 8 mb, Practo is 6.7 mb and HDFC Bank is 17 mb. Popular messaging app What sApp is a whopping 40 mb.
WhatsApp gets away with the ause it is relevant and extreme flab because it is relevant and extreme ly sticky -it’s the largest messaging app globally with 800 million active users.
Furniture etailer Urban Ladder has three apps -Urban Storage, a wardrobe app, which is 30 mb, Urban Living for sofas, also 30 mb, and the basic Urban ladder app of 4.5 mb. Rajiv Srivasta, cofounder, Urban Ladder, said the first two apps are heavy as they use graphics and a 3D engine to create a great experience. No doubt.But Urban Ladder’s basic app has about 1 million users while the other two have just a few thousands, underscoring the pervading pattern of consumers fretting more about space than experience.
Some apps are betting on change in user habits. Kunal Shah, founder of Freecharge, a mobile recharging app, said only 3-4% of users re-charge their mobile phone online. But that number will eventually grow, according to him.
Likewise, Foodpanda, a food ordering app with 1.2 million downloads so far, is preparing to attract people who order food by calling up restaurants. “Food ordering is a $15 billion a year opportunity on phones,“ said Saurabh Kochhar, cofounder & CEO, Foodpanda. “We are ey ing this market.“
As competition intensifies and space shrinks, apps are adapting. “There will be multiple apps under one app,“ said iple apps under one app,“ said Rajat Kohli, engagement lead, Zinnov, a management con sulting firm.-linking too will increase, like Cross-linking too will increase, like how HDFC Bank app users are routed to the Flipkart app. Consolidation will be inevitable. “Apps will ride on messaging apps, which are used more frequently ,“ said Mishra of Uninstall.IO.
Alok Goel, CEO, Saif Partners, said granted companies will have to keep their apps relevant to create higher engagement and downloads, but perennial favourites such as Facebook and WhatsApp will be the highway into their ecosystem.It is the Google model -people visit the search engine to discover websites. In China, apps are already riding piggyback on WeChat, a popular messaging app.
That could be the future for second-fiddle apps at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why Firms Move Fully to Apps
On August 1, Ola, the car hailing company, switched completely to apps. On May 15, fashion e-retailer Myntra ditched its website for app.Both claim compelling reasons drove the switch.
“We never got (much) business from the site even when we started back in 2011 -it was either through the call centre or the app,“ said Pranay Jivrjka, COO, Ola. Ola has since ended call centre bookings as well because its app contributes 99% of the business.
When Myntra was contemplating junking its website, it was already getting 90% traffic and 70% revenue from its app. “Subsequently, revenue and traffic (from the website) dropped less than what we expected,“ said Shamik Sharma, chief technology officer, Myntra.
Myntra has not regretted the decision. “Users are always logged on, they are always with us and an app enables quick access to our collection,“ said Sharma. Besides, apps help customise better. “We know whether the user is male, female, college going or professional. All sensors on a smartphone -GPS, sound, voice, camera etc -can be weaved into the app for better experience.“
Ola sees apps as a better problem solver than the website. “I know my frequent users better -what car he prefers, places he travels to and when will he need the car. That makes us respond better to user needs,“ said Jivrjka. “Besides, via the app we give a quarter million cars across 100 cities.“
Both companies are upgrading their apps. Taking a cue from its global compet itor Uber, Ola now offers food delivery in select cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru. Myntra is about to launch visual search, which gives users purchase options by simply pointing to a product.
Apps are certain to drive the future of ecommerce and businesses are rushing in headlong.
Source: The Economic Times
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