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Expert Q & A

Are Mobile Apps the Next Big E-Comm Channel?

September 6, 2022
October 19, 2021
Mae Rice

Apple's privacy updates have shaken up paid social media marketing, and now email marketing. What's an e-commerce business to do? Maybe a mobile app is the answer.

Table of Contents

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The game has changed for e-commerce marketers.

Privacy-first iOS updates disrupted their two most reliable channels — paid social and email — in 2021. 

In the wake of iOS 14.5, companies are reducing spend on Facebook Ads, Konstant Kreative founder Nick Shackelford observed. 

Now iOS 15 is shaking email up, too. What’s an e-comm brand to do? 

One option: launch a mobile app.

Shackelford works with e-commerce brands like Posh Peanut and Pete & Pedro, and several of his clients are looking into this option.

What are the pros and cons? Shackelford talked us through it.

PRO: Push notifications are better than texts.

Sure, there are parallels. Like SMS, push notifications...

  • Pop up on a phone’s lock screen
  • Load quickly, even with weak wi-fi

But push notifications have an edge on text messages, because they drive to frictionless checkout.

Most users have already loaded payment info into their apps, Shackelford noted.

PRO: Apps are getting easier to build.

Who will become the Shopify of e-comm apps? 

Shackelford has his eye on two emerging no-code platforms:

  • Tapcart — Currently the backend of Fashion Nova and Pier One Imports’ mobile apps, this builder integrates directly with Shopify stores.
  • Via Mobile — This newer app builder for e-commerce brands comes from m-commerce platform Via Customers.

Both make building mobile apps easier, just as other e-comm channels get harder to use.

PRO: Apps capture reliable behavioral data. 

E-commerce brands can collect first-party data on when and how users browse mobile apps, Shackelford noted — and even personalize the app experience in real time.

Meanwhile, web storefronts are having a tougher time collecting tracking data as the privacy-first web unfolds.

CON: Apps need marketing.

Getting people to download an e-comm app might require...

  • Email and SMS marketing
  • App store ads
  • Ads within other apps (more on this below!)

Post-download, keeping users engaged often takes a steady stream of app-exclusive offers, Shackelford said — like discounts and early bird product launches.

That’s a lot of work!

CON: The market for your e-comm apps could be small.

Hair and skincare brand Wow Skin Science has a great app, Shackelford reports.

But “you don't really download that unless you're a pretty diehard customer,” he said.

It might make more sense for vertical-specific apps to join forces and launch what TechCrunch calls “superapps.”

Our takeaway?

Owned mobile apps look more and more relevant to e-commerce brands. 

They’re a way to “own an audience and be on-device,” Shackelford said — even build a mobile-first community

“I think people should revisit it for sure.”

Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is editor in chief at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she loves learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture.

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