Mobile app downloads and usage has skyrocketed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. App usage grew an astonishing 40 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020 alone, with downloads reaching a high of nearly 35bn.
The recent explosion of activity has posed a new challenge for businesses. While the app marketplace has been competitive for many years, the unprecedented shift to digital means those that cannot cater to evolving user demands and optimise engagement are increasingly at risk of losing out to those who can.
Simply put, an app must be ‘sticky’. The goal is not just to get users to download it; typically, the app must then be used again and again if it is to deliver value back to the business.
This is no mean feat. While the average smartphone user has 80 apps on their phone, they will only use nine of those daily, and well under half (30) will be opened on a monthly basis.
So, how can businesses achieve stickiness and win the battle for long-term user retention on their app?
The non-negotiables of a compelling user experience
A great user experience (UX) is the foundation for sustainable engagement. Indeed, the clincher for most users is an intuitive experience: if people do not feel like they understand how to use an app’s features, they will simply abandon it.
This is especially important when it comes to complex tools that require a lot of functionality, but which are not particularly exciting to use.
Financial tools like investment apps, for instance, must not only create core product differentiation, but also offer genuine utility and an optimised onboarding process to prevent a high drop-out rate before users even make their first investment.
A user’s initial interaction with an app must inspire confidence: it should be easy to use, sign up, and seamlessly connect funds or a bank account.
Winning people’s trust naturally begins with prioritising security, and being clear on how individuals’ data will be used is a non-negotiable. If the sign-up process requires businesses to gather lots of information, it is always better to do it in the most straightforward and transparent way possible.
One option is to build confidence gradually through soft onboarding – namely, enabling users to play around with the app and test its features before sharing personal details and committing fully.
I would also encourage businesses to find a good balance between innovation and familiarity.
Innovation is what will keep people returning to an app, even when disruptive new players enter the market.
This can be achieved by giving individuals a reason to check back in – whether that is by adding an element of gamification, encouraging users to work towards a personal goal (those that have a Monzo account will be no stranger to the app’s round-up feature), or providing personalised content by leveraging the power of machine learning to tailor the experience to each user.
On a more basic level, innovation can also take the form of creating interesting layouts and improving in-app interactions.