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Apps’ UX ratings woes point to need for better understanding of users

Target, Marriott and other merchants whose mobile applications have received more negative app-store user reviews than positive ones need to focus more on identifying what users want rather than grabbing an edge over the pack.

As brands race to get out in front of the public’s migration to mobile, some have gotten the balance wrong between getting apps to market and making sure the user experience does not negatively affect the brand. The cost could be loss of sales and market share.

“I don’t think it’s worth creating a negative experience just to be there,” said Nitesh Patel, who directs wireless media strategies for the global wireless practice of Strategy Analytics. “That’s like a school kid raising their arm up as fast as possible after the teacher has asked a question to the class, but only to have the wrong answer.”

One-star ratings
Target’s recently overhauled main app, which is at the forefront of the department store chain’s embrace of the consumer shift to mobile, has garnered more than 27,000 one-star ratings between the Apple App Store and Google Play, while Marriott International’s app also has a low Apple app store rating, according to Mobile Marketer’s recent analysis.

Target’s app on Apple App Store.

Retailers and other brands need to be careful because annoying loyal customers that typically use apps could lead to churn, and cost the brands sales.

“Rolling out mobile apps to address changing consumer habits is one thing, but doing so without properly testing the apps for bugs, or testing the application thoroughly is short sighted and will deter consumers using the app,” Mr. Patel said.

Marketers should prioritize which platforms to support, he said. Typically, iOS is a must-have, followed by mobile Web to address other platforms, then Android to address the other must-have. Tools such as surveys, testing and soft launches are all available to help digital marketers.

“Companies need to really understand and identify what people want to do with their apps,” said Josh Martin, director of analytics research services with Strategy Analytics. “Is it simply to browse or buy? Do they want reviews in store to make informed decisions? Something else entirely?

“I think failure to have a strategy and then be clear in its execution is the problem – combined with at times unreasonable consumer expectation,” he said.

Ratings in app stores, while changeable, give brands a clear window into how users feel and what they think about an app.

“They are a good indicator, but the user comments often provide actionable insights on the problem for the retailer,” Mr. Patel said. “These ratings provide great feedback and it looks as though Target understands this.

“Target is responding to every comment on the Google Play store,” he said.

The ratings are complicated, according to Mr. Martin. “If you look at iOS versus Android – what I have found over time are ratings on iOS tend to be lower because consumers expect more. This complicated matters for retailers that want to create a cross-platform strategy but also want an app to serve its strategic objective.

“And that’s the other issue,” he said. “What is the point of your app? Is it really to drive sales? Loyalty? Something else?”

Sometimes consumers may be frustrated by something – say not being able to buy in-app – when it actually serves the retailer’s broader goal of getting someone into the store.

“Similar to OS suppression on iOS you have thousands of users with thousands of different expectations so meeting all of those would be difficult,” Mr. Martin said. “Maybe some are frustrated there is no Apple Watch support while others want Apple Pay. The potential for dissatisfaction is high.”

Apps’ growing role in consumers’ lives cannot be doubted.

The stickiness of applications has reached an all-time-high due to better retention and engagement, according to a recent study by Localytics.

Localytics defines app stickiness as the average of the percentage of how many frequent users an app has and the percentage of users who return within three months after first access. This number underwent a dramatic increase since December, reaching a peak of 26 percent.

Creating engaging content for consumers is still the most important aspect of developing an app and greater developments in this field of marketing are driving more use of brand-developed apps.

Striking balance
Brands likely need to pay more attention to app ratings. “But app ratings are just a symptom of greater problems – which many seem to be ignoring,” Mr. Martin said.

Marriott’s app on Apple App Store.

“For smaller, unknown companies poor app ratings certainly hurt but for big well known brands it may impact perception but is unlikely to sway a dedicated user from engaging in a download.

“Instead, large companies like Walmart, Target, etc. should be mining the feedback in these reviews to make improvements to the outstanding issues these users are facing,” he said.

“There is clearly a balance required between getting apps to market and making sure the user experience does not negatively impact the brand,” Mr. Patel said. “Retailers with overwhelmingly more negative reviews than positive ones have got this balance wrong, in my view.”

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York