Like it or not, we’ve become a world of people transfixed by 3-inch screens. A recent Google study showed 62 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 34 owned a smartphone, and over half of people between 35 and 44 years old. Even if those aren’t your target demographics, the study showed that mobile use for some of the most popular industries for small business are skyrocketing.
- A third of restaurant searches are done online.
- Seventy percent of smartphone users use their device while their shopping in your retail store. And, half of those users buy because of the search.
- Ninety-five percent have used their phone to look for information on local businesses.
Which means, unequivocally, your business needs a smartphone presence. But is an app the way to go? Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not an app is really something your small business needs.
1. What are the advantages of a mobile app?
Much like that adorable picture of their dog in a Santa hat keeps people thinking about their dogs, an app icon on the home screen will keep your business top of mind for your customers. But there are other advantages, like easy loyalty programs, tracking customer purchases, sending push notifications about upcoming specials, and allowing you to interact with customers on a more personal level when you’ve gotten too busy to do it yourself.
2. Is an app going to do something I can’t do with a mobile website?
If your main aim is to just give your customer a really, really convenient way to find your telephone number, the several-thousand dollars you lay out might not be worth it. While an app will run you anywhere from $3000-$5000 or more, you can get a mobile site developed for hundreds, especially if you’ve got a regular website up already. However, a recent ComScore study showed 82 percent of mobile media minutes are spent with apps rather than browsers, so you may want to take that into consideration.
3. Can I afford it?
We’re not just talking about the few thousand dollars to start it up. Apps need constant updating to stay relevant and useful, and if you or your staff isn’t going to have time to do that, you’ll need to outsource that job. If that’s not time or money you have, a mobile app may not be feasible.
4. Is it worth the investment?
Quantifying investments in social media is kind of like trying to put a value on a good haircut. You’ll never know for sure what you got out of it, but without it nobody’s going to give you any attention. Sit down and think about how much additional business you expect to get out of an app. You can start by asking your customers how much more often they’d use your business because of a rewards program, push notifications, or mobile-app ordering service. If your customer base is one that values that kind of convenience, an app might make sense.
5. What do my customers want?
If your customer base still thinks an app is typically served with buffalo sauce and is half off from 5-7, they’re probably not going to get much use out of whatever smartphone application you develop. However if you do have a more tech savvy clientele, find out what features matter to them. Is online ordering important? Or notifications of service times? Or convenient appointment making? Before developing anything talk to your customers and start planning after you know what they want.
6. Would an inward-facing app be appropriate?
Even if the people who pay your bills (that’s your customers, hopefully) wouldn’t necessarily be clamoring to the app store, you might find an internal – or inward facing - app to be an invaluable tool. For instance, if you’ve got a business with a complicated inventory system, this can help you and your staff track it better. Or, if you need it for scheduling, easily notifying employees of changes via push notifications, or tracking employee whereabouts can be a cost-saving tool on the backend as much as something to improve sales.
7. Will it save your staff time?
Since you keep your staff leaner than a UFC fighter, you need them to get the most out of their time. So would an app that sends customers notifications when their order is ready or car is done or appointment needs to be confirmed save enough time to make it worthwhile for your staff? While customers’ needs should be the main consideration of an outward-facing app, you should also factor in time savings to your staff.
8. Do you need it now?
Kind of like that state of the art TV that you sold your Nolan Ryan rookie card to buy, only to see a better version of that TV come out six months later, apps are always upgrading their features and usability. So getting an app just to have one might be jumping the gun a little. However, if you can have one when your competition doesn’t, that’s a competitive advantage that might make it worth it.
9. What are your goals?
Probably the best way to ensure you have an app that does nothing for your business is to have no way of seeing if it did anything. Is your goal to make money off the app? Because increasingly businesses are giving them away to encourage interaction. Do you have a target number of downloads? A number or value of orders you want to see made? A target goal of registrations for rewards programs? Or just a significant time savings for your employees? Think about what your goals are, both for the app and for your business, and then weigh whether this is going to be the best move for you.
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