How to Build a Mobile App For Retail Business?
  • 1. 🛍️ What is a Mobile Retail App and What Do We Need it For?
  • 2. 📱 Why an App and not a Website?
  • 3. 8️⃣ more reasons to develop a mobile app for retail business
  • 4. 📋 Features of a Retail App: your Must-Have List
  • 5. 🔎 Case Study: Inspirational Success Stories of Starbucks, Zara and Rebecca Minkoff
  • 6. 💰 What about retail mobile app development costs?
  • 7. 📈 Money saving tips: how to get more and pay less?
  • 8. 💡 Conclusion
  • A cool mobile app is a must-have for any modern retail business. It is no longer an advantage but an essential factor of your market success. So, today we’re going to answer all your questions about retail mobile app development!

    What do Starbucks, IKEA, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters and Walmart have in common? Except for the letter “a” in their names, all these retailer companies have own apps. Why?

    The m-commerce market

    The m-commerce market grows every year!

    Those who quickly respond to such market changes have a great possibility to boost their sales just because they turned out to be faster than their competitors. Few examples:

    • every 4th mobile user starts a search on a branded app, so if you don’t have one, you lose these users.
    • Hitwise reports that the share of online searches initiated on a mobile device is 56%.
    • Also, the latest comScore report reveals that users across different countries spend 85-90% of their mobile time in apps (compared to 10-15% in browser).

    Moreover, don’t think that only brands with multi-million dollar incomes are interested in developing own retail apps. Your business will get increased sales and great ROI, too! Still not sure? Read on and you'll see it!

    🛍️ What is a Mobile Retail App and What Do We Need it For?

    It’s pretty clear what benefits you will have of a hotel booking app development or how an app like Snapchat should look like. A mobile retail app is something different and a bit more intricate. So what is it exactly?

    What is the Retail App?
    For your customers 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 For you 💼
    A mobile or/and tablet app that allows to improve the purchasing process, enrich the in-store experience of your customers, establish new interactive ways to stay in touch with them and encourage them to make repeat orders. A powerful tool with a stunning ROI that will increase your income by attracting new customers, building brand loyalty, generating repeat purchases, and establishing a new trading channel.

    A mobile retail app

    A bright example of a retail app (image by Gabe Becker)

    However, I suggest you considering a retail mobile app development as an addition to your main retail business but not as a substitute for it. Although, given that 30% of online purchases nowadays are made through mobile devices, it can potentially become a separate and powerful source of income. For example, Starbucks app generates more than 20% of company revenue that equals approximately $6 million.

    “I see,” you may answer, “but does MY retail business need an app?”

    That's a fair question so let us answer it right now!

    📱 Why an App and not a Website?

    Let’s start with an industry insight: it’s profitable to develop a mobile app for any kind of retail business. So no matter what you’re selling, from donuts to shovels, from clothing to electrical goods you can skyrocket your business only by creating an appropriate app. Why? Starting from 2015, the share of retail online sales through smartphones annually grows by 5-10%.

    A mobile retail app

    Mobile apps usually provide better UX (image by Alex Khoroshok)

    It is not enough just to entice the user to an app - it’s also necessary to motivate him to make a purchase. So in our case conversion rate is a key metric that shows the share of users who not just surfed through the retail app, but accepted at least one of your offers.

    Of course, you can create a website for this purpose. But will the result be the same? The following statistics by PR Newswire prove that it’s not the best solution:

    • Shoppers browse 286% more products using mobile apps than web browsers.
    • Mobile apps users’ add-to-basket rate is 90% higher.
    • The overall conversion rate is about 120% higher on retail apps than on websites.

    Furthermore, modern people are more inclined to spend their free time in apps than in browsers. Just take a look at Yahoo's Flurry analytics:

    Time spent on mobile

    The amount of time spent on mobile

    The third advantage of retail mobile app development is a better UX. Guys from Clickz say this difference “can result in a basket abandonment rate of around 20%” on a website. In addition to worse performance, mobile websites don’t support a range of important features. For example, push notifications (we will talk about it later).

    A little bonus: a nice icon of your app will always be in sight of your users on their homescreen. It also helps build a brand awareness and loyalty.

    8️⃣ more reasons to develop a mobile app for retail business

    I’ve already mentioned 1 great reason to build a retail app (it’s high conversion rates). What about the other 8? Let's find out!

    № 2. Increased sales

    Let me start with numbers. The research by Apptentive shows that 88% of customers use retail apps. Moreover, most consumers use them for online shopping. Thus, for instance, Alibaba gets the most revenue from the mobile customers.

    It’s pretty obvious that loyalty programs, improvement of the in-store & online experience and increased conversion rates also positively influence your sales. This is the most obvious reason to build a mobile app for retail business.

    Read Also Top 6 E-Commerce App Design Tips for Improving Sales

    № 3. Stay competitive!

    You may be surprised but many mobile users will prefer to visit (and, eventually, to make a purchase there) your competitor’s store just because he offers them to download and use a mobile app. And I’m talking not only about world-known brands, but about small- and middle-sized retail companies as well.

    In Ask Your Target Market’s latest online survey 46% of respondents said that they prefer to shop using mobile retail apps over making purchases on websites. Moreover, about 71% of people who have used retail apps (at least once) were satisfied with such an experience.

    Are you ready to lose all these potential customers? No, I bet. Then the reasonable solution for you is to make your own retail app.

    Zalando app

    Zalando already has an app. Do you? (image by Andreas Frank)

    By the way, the more time you spend thinking, the more customers you possibly lose. ContractIQ reports that 62% of retail businesses they have asked already had an app or were going to release one soon. You can conduct a little experiment to confirm these statistics: check out a few of your competitors and, I’m sure, you will find out that some of them already have apps.

    № 4. Increase brand loyalty

    Loyalty is often considered as one of the main reasons for a retail app development. Therefore, I want to dwell on it in more detail.

    Everyone likes gifts. And everyone likes to feel special. Loyalty programs combine this, making customers interested in the regular use of your app. On the other hand, these programs provide users with exclusive content.

    What does this “exclusive content” include? Let’s take a look!


    A gamification element is a proven way to create a fascinating UX. The 2 main rules that apply here: it should be useful and creative.

    For example, you can implement your own in-app currency (it may be something unique like stars in Starbucks app or just ordinary “points” like in Pinkberry app). Users can gain this currency by visiting your store, making purchases, taking part in competitions and sales etc. Afterward, they can exchange these points for other goods, discounts and special offers.

    Starbucks' loyalty points

    Starbucks uses stars as its unique in-app currency


    Another reason for downloading a retail app is coupons. They provide users with free gifts and special discounts. And, again, here your imagination is not bounded.


    Use coupons to keep consumers interested in using your app (image by Ali Aas)

    You can attract more users to your app (read get more customers) by providing coupons from inviting new friends to the app. Or you can draw attention to the new products by providing coupons from buying them.

    № 5. Many potential users

    What about users? Who may need an app like this? After reading the report on retail apps by Apptentive, we can make the following conclusions:

    1. Retail apps are almost equally used by both men (44%) and women (56%).
    2. The average income of users is between $50,000-75,000 per year.
    3. The largest group of users - about 27% - is aged 18-29 years old.
    4. The second largest group (26%), surprisingly, is of age 60+.

    However, don’t forget to take into account the features of your business, which also directly influence the portrait of your target audience.

    Nevertheless, the research shows that your app can be potentially popular among people of both sexes and different ages. Seems like a good reason to create a retail mobile app, right?

    № 6. Better in-store experience

    It would be a huge mistake to think that your mobile app and your store are something like separate universes. About 84% of customers who use retail apps, say they use them during shopping right in the store. What does this figure mean to you? It means that you should make your app and store interact. This is another way of how retail business can use mobile apps!

    “Retailers who can provide unique in-store experiences will be king” – Vend.

    There are 4 ideas you can implement to improve in-store experiences of your users:

    • Click-and-collect

    The service makes it possible for customers to make an online purchase but pick up the order in the store. It allows to avoid waiting in a checkout line, so your users can get their goods as fast as possible. By applying this service and eliminating morning coffee routine Starbucks has markedly increased its incomes.

    Moreover, customers who visited your store just to pick up already bought orders are tend to buy additional items.

    • Pay-and-go

    Some stores also allow their customers to pay for purchases within the app. Eventually, you don’t have to wait in line - it’s enough to show your e-receipt on the way out.

    Pay-and-go feature

    The feature allows to make the fastest purchases (image by Marian Cepa)
    • Scanning

    Barcodes and QR-codes scanning can provide consumers with detailed descriptions of goods, ability to compare different items or to add them to wishlists and so on.

    • Geofencing

    Placing iBeacons inside your store you can make them interact with your users’ phones as they approach. The possibilities of use are very wide - from greeting your customers when they enter the store and sending notifications about ongoing sales and special offers to providing the indoor mapping.

    Indoor mapping

    Guide your customer to the needed item (image by impekable)

    № 7. KYC - Know Your Customer

    You can also consider an app as a tool to collect a vast array of sophisticated data about your consumers. What are their favorite goods? How often do they go shopping? What are their buying behavior patterns?

    Read Also What is Machine Learning and How to Use it in Your Mobile App?

    All these and even more answers you can find out with a retail app on your side. By making data-driven business decisions you will be able to increase your revenue and provide your consumers with even better experience.

    № 8. Millennials - always in their mobile phones

    I’ve already mentioned a wide customer base as one of the reasons to develop a mobile app for retail business. However, pay a special attention to millennials (they are also known as Generation Y) - young individuals who are aged between 18-35 years old, familiar with digital technologies and mostly work in the public service sector.


    Who is your potential user? They all are!

    They spend many hours of their time and thousands of dollars or euro in their mobile phones, so why don’t you take advantage of it? It sounds unbelievable, but the research by Youbrand shows us that the global spending power of Generation Y was estimated at the level of $2.45 trillion in 2015. It is 63% more than the revenues of the government's budget of Germany for the same period!

    № 9. It can be addictive

    Retailtainment. If you think that it’s a misspell or mistake, it’s not. This word was obtained, as you might have guessed, by combining “retail” and “entertainment” and it refers to one of the biggest trends in retail mobile app development.

    The main idea behind this concept is to make a user in-app experience not only useful, but also fun and engaging. So, actually, whether you like it or not - entertainment is going to play an almost as important role as functionality.

    IKEA AR app

    IKEA AR app turns the process of choosing furniture into a real adventure!

    How can you implement retailtainment through the application? Let’s look at some bright examples:

    • Famous cosmetic giant Sephora enriched its app with the “Virtual Artist” feature. It allows users to test company’s products directly in the app on your photos or in a live mode without putting any real makeup on.
    • IKEA Catalog app uses augmented reality technologies and provides users with the possibility to virtually place furniture in the room.
    • You can also use virtual reality technologies in your app. For example, Alibaba’s Taobao app supports 3D viewing of products.

    With all of the above, it seems quite reasonable to make your own retail app.

    Sephora's Virtual Artist feature

    Sephora allows to test its products online

    Finally, we’re done with the reasons! What do you need for it and how much will it cost you? Let’s move on and find it out!

    📋 Features of a Retail App: your Must-Have List

    The list of essential features for your app significantly depends on the type of your business. So if you want to get the most relevant information about your app, please contact us. However, there are some basic features that are needed to build the best retail mobile app for any kind of commerce. Let’s review them!

    📃 Product catalogue

    The main reason why most customers are going to use your app is a product catalogue. This screen contains a list of available goods that consumers can browse and order right in the app. Make sure you provide your users with the perfect UX and UI at this stage. How can you achieve this?

    1. Create a gallery with bright HD images of your goods.
    2. Add a detailed (but not too much) description to every product.
    3. Break up your products into categories to make it easier for customers to find needed products.
    4. Provide users with a simple way to move from one item to another by suggesting them related products.
    5. Regularly update the item availability - this feature lets your customers know whether the product is available to buy right now or, if not, an approximate date of its arrival.

    Product catalogue

    A good example of product catalogue (image by Alberto Conti)

    All of the above is the must-have for your app. However, if you want to build the best retail mobile app, you can also implement several additional features. Among them are:

    • price checker - allows to check and compare prices of different products;
    • customization - make sure your consumers can check all types of the product before ordering;
    • item preview - you can also use more sophisticated technologies to present a product to consumers and boost sales. For this purpose videos, 3D modeling and augmented reality tech are good tools.

    🔎 Searching

    It may be not a big trouble to find the right product if your store offers just a dozen. But what about several hundred or even thousands products? In any case, searching feature is definitely the necessary one for both small and big players.

    Searching feature

    Make sure your app has a convenient searching feature (image by Virgil Pana)

    Also, don’t forget about barcode/QR-code scanning as one more way to find a needed product when you’re already in store.

    ✔️ Sorting & Filters

    These 2 tools are useful when it comes to managing a product catalogue.

    Sorting allows changing the way orders are shown on the screen. Users can apply this tool so as to see the cheapest offers first or start browsing goods with the highest user rates.


    Filters are important for providing a perfect UX (image by Anna Gerasymenko)

    Filters are used to exclude products that don’t fit a number of certain requirements. The list of these parameters depends on the kind of your business. However, the most common type of filters that can be implemented in any retail app is setting a price range.

    Keep them in memory during your retail app development.

    👛 Checkout

    In the app everything works as in the supermarket: users form their orders by adding items to the cart. So don’t forget to let them check it once more before giving you their hard-earned money.

    Checkout stage

    Without an excellent UX and UI you can lose many customers at this stage (image by BlueCat)

    By the way, at this stage they should also be able to see the total sum they will have to pay for the order. If everything is correct, the last step before confirmation is choosing an appropriate payment and delivery option.

    Checkout and the following payment stage are critically important. You must provide your users with the perfect UX and make this process as simple and fast as possible. Otherwise, you can lose customers at the last moment.

    However, if something went wrong, use push notifications, email letters and other tools to retarget clients who for some reason have interrupted the ordering process.

    💳 Payment system

    Usually, customers prefer to pay for the goods right in the app (it’s enough to remember how popular click-and-collect service is). So if you plan to create a retail mobile app, you can’t do it without a fast and secure payment system. Our team already has experience in providing users with in-app payments so feel free to contact us on this matter.

    Payment system

    A payment process should be fast and easy (image by Anna Gerasymenko)

    Tech tip: to integrate the payment system you can use Stripe or Braintree SDKs.

    👍 Loyalty programs

    As I have already said, loyalty programs are powerful tools to generate repeated purchases and increase the users’ love for your brand and business. No matter what approach you will choose (points, tiers, coupons or everything at once) make sure this part of your app is not too hidden and has a nice-looking design.

    By promoting loyalty programs, you can also increase the flow of visitors to your stores. According to Wefi, some brands managed to increase the number of visits up to 85%!

    Shop visits

    A retail mobile app can increase the foot traffic too

    Also, pay attention to an interactive element. Animations, microinteractions and other tools can greatly enrich user experience and make your app even more catchy!

    Read Also How to Build a Loyalty app for Small Business?

    👤 Profiles

    Profiles will remain a super important part of any mobile app for retail business. They fulfill several vital tasks:

    • save personal customer information like payment details, a list of previous orders and so on;
    • provide users with the fastest access to their custom settings;
    • associate a certain user with his personal discounts and offers;
    • moreover, without creating a profile your users won’t be able to participate in loyalty programs.

    A profile

    Profiles keep users tied to your app (image by Mattias Johansson)

    By the way, don’t forget to implement the “social login” feature. It allows users to avoid registration process and use personal information from their social network accounts instead.

    🗺️ Geolocator for offline stores

    A mobile app for retail store also allows attracting more users to your offline spot. Therefore, it seems reasonable to improve your app with a built-in map of your stores. Your customers also will highly appreciate if you add some meaningful info about each shop (e.g. working hours, phone number, email and actual address).

    Store locator

    A store locator isn't a must-have feature but it will be useful if you want to attract more users to your offline shop (image by Joshua Mauldin)

    You can go even further and make it possible for a user to build a route from his location to your store right in the app!

    💬 Push notifications

    Push notifications are also known as a great marketing and retargeting channel. They keep users interested in your app by regularly informing them about sales and hot offers or updating the status of ongoing orders.

    By the way, push notifications are often considered as a significant advantage of a mobile app for retail store over a website.

    You can also use push notifications for improving the customer experience inside the store. For example, you can use personalized push notifications to greet consumers as they walk in and share information about special deals at this certain store.

    A push notification

    Use push notifications as a marketing and retargeting channel

    Finally, push notifications can be used as a retargeting channel which is an effective way to communicate with specific groups of your consumers. For example, you can remind some users to finish their orders or inform them about discounts on the goods that they often buy.

    How does it work? If someone leaves your app at the checkout or payment stage you can send them a push notification just to remind about an abandoned order or offer help to complete it. Digital Information World says that only 8% of customers come back to complete an order on their own. With retargeting this number increases to 26%!

    📢 Social media integration

    Last but not least. At first glance, this may not look like an important point, but do not underestimate the power of social networks. Why?

    Your own customers can advertise your store almost as effective as professional marketers. By sharing their positive experience and feelings about your business with others your customers can attract even more people to your shop or app. This kind of advertising is also known as “word-of-mouth marketing”. So make it easy for them to share interesting content or their excitement about your products.

    Thus, a social media share feature won’t cost you much but it can significantly boost your market success.

    Read Also What Technology Do You Need to Build a Shopping App?

    Now let’s take a look at a few successful examples of retail apps from market leaders!

    🔎 Case Study: Inspirational Success Stories of Starbucks, Zara and Rebecca Minkoff

    ☕ Starbucks: a powerful loyalty-building approach

    Starbucks has almost become synonymous with the word “coffee”. I have already mentioned its app as a great example of an efficient loyalty-building tool. However, was the app development worth it?

    Starbucks app

    Starbucks is a real king when it comes to loyalty programs

    Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shared in 2015 that mobile in-app payments accounted for about 20% of all their in-store operations (it’s about 9+ million transactions a week). Moreover, the app had increased the foot traffic by at least 4%.

    The greatest success Starbucks achieved in creating and promoting loyalty programs. As of 2017, Starbucks Rewards program has 13 million active members and grows up 16% year over year. The program keeps running repeat purchases and allows to significantly increase the company’s profits.

    👗 Zara: how to increase sales by more than 60%?

    Zara launched own app back in mid-2012. The company decided not to overload the app with features and screens, but bet on simplicity and convenience. The app has nothing excess and for someone it may even seem too minimalist.

    Zara app

    Minimalist but stylish. More is not always better

    However, customers liked the combination of user-centered design and flawless UX. In addition to the purchase function, the application also provides information on discounts, coupons, sales and new merchandise. Such a complex approach allowed to increase ZARA’s sales by 60%.

    👝 Rebecca Minkoff: managed to sell 3 times more than they expected

    The company has used a broad variety of tools to attract as many users as possible. Some of them were typical for the industry (but still very effective), but there also were creative solutions. They proposed their users:

    • a 15% discount after downloading the app;
    • to order free drinks while a shop assistant delivers chosen items to a dressing room;
    • the list of complimentary accessories created by stylists according to their order history;
    • more personalized experience when arriving in the store and being noticed by Beacon technology.

    Rebecca Minkoff app

    Rebecca Minkoff app

    As it was later declared by the CEO, the company managed to sell the amount of clothes which was three times more than they preliminarily expected.

    With all of the examples above you can see that well-known market leaders successfully take advantage of their retail apps. Want to join them? It’s a good idea, but let’s pay some attention to such an acute issue as your possible spending on custom retail apps development.

    💰 What about retail mobile app development costs?

    Costs of custom mobile app development for retail business directly depend on the number of hours needed to build such an app. According to estimated calculations by Stormotion team, the FrontEnd development of the app will take from 400 hours per platform (iOS or Android) and from 40 hours more for UI and UX development (in total, 12-14 workweeks). These calculations don’t include the BackEnd part since its costs significantly depend on the complexity of integration with your current e-commerce solution.

    How much will it be in dollars? Let’s take the average hourly rate in Eastern Europe - $40. Then the approximate cost of the custom mobile app development for retail business starts from $17,600 per platform.

    Keep in mind, that it’s impossible to provide a precise estimate of an abstract “retail app development”. Each case should be treated individually. That’s why you can contact us with details of your business and we will calculate the estimate of your retail app within 24 hours!

    Read Also How to Estimate Software Development Time Accurately?

    We also have a bunch of advice for you that will help optimize development expenses. Read on to learn them!

    📈 Money saving tips: how to get more and pay less?

    You may wonder: “Is it possible to reduce a retail mobile app development cost but still get a perfect result?”. Yes, and the key is only 2 words - thoughtful planning.

    The golden rule of any business says: spend less than you earn.

    If we omit development costs of every feature, there are 3 things that noticeably influence your eventual outlay. These are:

    • development team;
    • contract type;
    • mobile platform.

    How can you save money on each of these points? Let’s find out!

    Choosing a team: where to find a perfect quality-price ratio?

    Is it a problem to find a development team? It doesn't seem so nowadays. You can untwist the globe and poke your finger at any point - almost certainly you will be able to find one of the mobile app development companies there. But how to make a right choice?

    At this point you should understand that more expensive is not always better.

    While development teams from the USA or Western Europe are going to charge about $60-$200 per hour, enthusiastic developers from Eastern Europe will do the same job not worse and for $30-$60 per hour.

    Would you like to pay twice or even three times more for the same result? I guess you can find a more reasonable use of this money.

    Read Also How to Select an Agency for Your App Development?

    Choosing a platform: aim at your target audience

    The competition between Android vs iOS development seems to be as prominent as between Apple and Samsung.

    Of course, it’s better to have your app released on both platforms. On the other hand, it may be too expensive or risky to make your own retail app for Android and iOS at once. How to make a wise choice?

    If you want to read a deeper research on this topic, you can read the article “Android vs iOS Development: Which Platform is Better?” on our blog. When you have solved issues with a team and platform, there is also one more task left.

    Yet, it's also possible to build a mobile app for retail business for both platforms using the React Native Framework (we love it!). You can read more about React Native in this article.

    Choosing a contract type: create a retail mobile app in the shortest time and at the lowest price

    When it comes to signing a contract, there are commonly two options: fixed price or time & material contract. As in the previous case, we recommend you to check out the article “Time and Material vs Fixed Price Contracts” where you can find a detailed comparison of these 2 approaches.

    💡 Conclusion

    So, I hope that now you have a good understanding of how retail business can use mobile apps. You also had the opportunity to make sure that the development process is not as difficult and complicated as it might seem. And the earlier you start it, the sooner you will get the first noticeable results!

    Any questions left? Don’t hesitate to contact us. Our Stormotion team has experience with custom retail apps development. We will help you to realize your retail business project and raise your sales!

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