Here's a reason for retailers to be "appy" this holiday season: Purchases made on mobile apps more than doubled in 2015, to nearly $50 billion. We look at holiday-specific shopper apps and how retailers can parlay these concepts into direct spending online and in the store.
In the classic film Miracle on 34th Street, the most accurate resource for product updates was R.H. Macy's Santa Claus. Today, Santa's got an app, and so do many of the stores he visits.
The result: Consumers are increasingly purchasing directly from mobile devices, skipping the aisle, the desktop and any possible referrals to Macy's or Gimbels.
Sales on mobile devices increased 56 percent in 2015, to $49.2 billion — double the growth rate of 2014, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing comScore. Nearly 40 percent of desktop purchases in the fourth quarter of 2015 occurred after a customer visited the retailer's app or mobile site.
Retailers are taking note. Many merchants from Target to Macy's and more are offering holiday-specific apps or tailoring existing apps to include holiday trimmings.
"The retailers that are succeeding are training customers to think of their smartphones like an all-day impulse aisle," The Wall Street Journal stated. "Apps are able to capture data available on handsets and push consumers to buy when they have a spare moment."
Deck the devices
For retailers, getting their apps on a shopper's screen is the equivalent of getting their products under the tree. Consumers averaged more than three hours a day in app use in 2015. Further, 75 percent of shoppers used mobile devices in some fashion for holiday shopping, according to the software company SandBox Commerce.
These trends have not been lost on retailers. Not only are more of them offering holiday-specific apps; some are checking the app box twice. Among them:
• Cartwheels through the snow: Through its Cartwheel app, Target is offering a 50 percent discount on a different toy each day until Dec. 24. Shoppers who create a gift list on Target’s Kids' Wish List app receive a 10 percent discount on the items included on their lists. They also can use their devices to scan items in the store. With 55 percent of Americans using their smartphones to compare prices during holiday shopping, such offers have a better chance to stand apart.
• Playing many retail games: Sears has partnered with the popular game show Wheel of Fortune on a holiday gamification app called the Wheel of Fortune Holiday Puzzler. Users can play the word puzzle once a day through the holiday season and vie to win Sears gift cards, encouraging app downloads and repeat visits.
• Penney for our thoughts: J.C. Penney offered those who downloaded its mobile app by Nov. 4 a sneak peek of its Black Friday ad. It is also offering one-day deals from its 72-page Black Friday circular through the holiday season, according to DallasNews.com.
• Holiday parade through time: Macy's is giving fans of its Thanksgiving Day Parade a chance to interact with its storied history. Users of the Macy's Parade Time Traveler app can snap selfies across the decades or collect virtual balloons from parades gone by. A complementary Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Stickers app engages users by providing parade imagery they can include in text messages.
Putting a bow on it
These apps have a few themes in common, but essential to their success is the way they draw on both emotional and practical wishes for the season. Following are three must-haves for a holiday app to make it onto the screen (and avoid the island of misfit apps).
Be a little helper: A good app will serve as a tool, enabling its users to more easily accomplish holiday tasks. Target's Kids' Wish List is a good example, as it organizes what kids want for the holiday in an easy-to-use list with the bonus of discounts. J.C. Penney, by loading its Black Friday circular to its app, brings the shopping search to its users with alerts to one-day deals. The data collected provides added detail to paint a more accurate profile of the shopper and her family’s preferences.
Tap into nostalgia: For many people, the sentimentality of the holidays is as sweet as Christmas cookies. A good holiday rewards app packages that nostalgia in ways the user can personalize, much like putting a photo in a gifted picture frame. Macy's Parade Time Traveler app does this by allowing users to relive earlier holidays or, for younger users, to travel back in time to the holidays of their parents or grandparents. The experience leaves an emotional imprint that likely persuades users to shop with Macy's, and the selfies can become fodder for holiday cards.
App to give back: People make 24 percent to nearly 43 percent of their annual charitable contributions in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Retailers can use holiday apps to facilitate this generosity by offering to match or make their own contributions. In 2015, the Macy's annual Believe campaign, for example, donated $1 to Make-A-Wish for every letter written and sent through its app or by other channels. These acts of altruism can extend to product suppliers as well. If toy brands get involved, they can layer their own philanthropic efforts onto the rewards.
The opportunities retailers can present for easier, more pleasurable shopping this holiday season are being unwrapped almost as fast as the largest gifts under the tree. If retailers can do this while providing relevant experiences that enrich the season, what they stand to gain approaches the miraculous.
/ Bryan Pearson is President and CEO of LoyaltyOne Inc. and the author of the best-selling book The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information into Customer Intimacy.