What specific functions and features does it need to include?

In terms of functions and features, there is no "one-size fits all" approach to making a great mobile app in fashion. Brands need to understand their customer demographic, expectations and behaviours, in order to define the functions and features that will successfully drive the overall objective of their solution. With that being said, mobile applications are an extremely powerful tool because they provide access to a wealth of unique functions and features, such as push messaging, native commerce experiences, in-store technology and loyalty program integration. These are only a few examples of how you can develop a great mobile app in fashion.

Overall, mobile applications truly excel when they have a clearly defined strategy, whether that's driving in-store personalisation, increasing loyalty, or providing a simple, yet effective, commerce journey. By harnessing the unique features available via native mobile application technology, brands can create truly powerful solutions that become an important component to driving overall business strategy.

How can it be designed to complement a website?

As with all digital channels, the key to having a strong brand proposition is consistency. But, that doesn't necessarily mean consistency from a feature or functional point of view. Having a consistent 'look and feel' informs the customer that each channel is just an extension of their digital offering. You don't want the customer to feel as if they're buying from a channel not owned by the brand, so consistent branding and design principles should be applied to an app and other digital channels.

However, offering different features or functionality in, for example, an app vs a website, is key as it gives the user a reason to have an app in the first place. If both the website and mobile app have the same functions and features, customers will notice, and they won't have any reason to go to the effort of downloading an app.

How will the experiences differ?

An app should, where possible, take advantage of the device's native features. One of the most powerful communication tools available to retailers is push notifications. For a brand to have the power to send messages to the customer, sending tailored promotions or content relevant to them is one of the key benefits of having a native application.

An app should be seen as a "little piece" of the brand sitting there on their customer's device. It should engage, inspire, and communication with them on a personalised level. We see websites as more of a shop window, whereas an app is the shop itself. A new customer will often use the website when shopping with a brand for the first time, perhaps by navigating to it via Google or by other organic means. However, once a customer becomes more familiar with you as a brand, their likelihood of downloading an app and becoming a repeat purchaser is increasing significantly.

How do you build loyalty via these apps? E.g. monitoring behaviour and personalising the experience?

Our philosophy is: give customers reasons to come back to the app every day, and the commerce and loyalty side of things takes care of itself. You tend to see in the data that generally the app is adopted by your most loyal customers and brand advocates. Therefore, a good experience in an app provides you with the opportunity to maximise the Customer Lifetime Value.

An app also acts as a great hub or launchpad for loyalty programs. Showing the user their points total, rewards or access to their digital loyalty card is a great reason for them to download your app in the first place. It also gives them a continues motivation to keep the app and not delete it going forward.

What are the risks/challenges?

The challenge is not disappointing users once they have taken the time and effort to download the app. Especially if this has often been driven via online marketing channel investments or other marketing activity. You can often see this in negative app store reviews. A poor experience leading to a bad review means you've disappointed a potential customer, but the review then has the ability to negatively impact future customer acquisition.

Another challenge is to keep going. Don't just put out an app in the app stores and leave it there to slowly become outdated. Fashion retailers with successful applications tend to update them often. Releasing new features, functionality or fixes gives the customer a reason to keep checking back every now and again.

Push notifications are also a risk, depending on the overall communication strategy. Getting to know your customer and working out how many notifications is too many can be a difficult balance. It's important to remember that if you annoy your customers with too many notifications, or send them content that's not relevant to them, it's a lot easier and simpler to just delete the app, as opposed to delving deep into the device to turn off notifications.

In terms of developing these apps, do retailers sometimes struggle to recruit the right specialists?

Native app development is a niche skillset that retailers don't usually have in-house. More and more companies are wanting apps and it's now a competitive market to hire the right talent with the right level of experience. It can be a significant investment for a business to get all the right components in place and would need a detailed delivery and development strategy in place.

Outsourcing to a specialist supplier takes the risk out of the equation as they have teams qualified (e.g. developers, testers, customer experience specialists.) The right specialist supplier shouldn't feel like an external function, but should feel like an extended part of the team.

Are apps the future of fashion, or a passing fad?

Retail apps in fashion are not just the future, they're also the past and the present. The majority of top high street and fashion retailers have apps that complement their digital offering. In the future, apps will continue to provide fashion retailers with opportunities such as augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and, perhaps even replacing those experiences that are being lost with the decreasing presence of physical retail on the highstreet. We believe the most successful retailers will be the ones willing to take risks, push boundaries, and utilise apps as a way to disrupt and reinvent the market.

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