Mar 22, 2021 | By Miya Knights

AppRising 2021: Growing Apps in Uncertain Times

Heads of ecommerce and digital from Cotton Traders and Hotter shared learnings from launching and growing app sales during last year’s unprecedented upheavals at Poq’s recent virtual event.

In spite of the turmoil and upheaval caused last year by the pandemic, the conditions it created also made for an ideal time to launch a ‘mobile first’ strategy, it emerged during a virtual roundtable with Poq client representatives recently. 

While retail brick-and-mortar was – and, in some cases, is still being – impacted by lockdown measures, their digital channels enjoyed unprecedented success. According to App Annie, $143 billion was spent in-app during 2020, amounting to 25% year-on-year (YoY) growth. 

In discussing ‘AppGrowth strategies in a pandemic – planning during uncertain time,’ Paul Hurst, Head of Digital, Cotton Traders explained how the UK-based clothing and footwear retailer had been planning to update its store and web-based presence with mobile apps. 

Navigating a perfect storm

“Certainly in the 12 months prior to the pandemic, we’d seen an ongoing shift in terms of our mobile visit penetration growth,” Hurst said, confirming that the retailer pressed ahead with the launch of its Poq-powered iOS and Android shopping apps in July 2020. 

“I guess, in practical sense, you could say launching in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t ideal,” he continued. “But, by that point, we were acclimatized to working from home. So, the launch itself wasn’t too much of a stretch in terms of our day-to-day working.”

However, the timing of the launch and doubling down on its associated digital marketing investment meant that Cotton Traders was able to capitalize on what Hurst described as, “a perfect storm in terms of driving the success of the app”. 

Given much of its target audience was forced to move online, the launch coincided with an acceleration of trends it had originally wanted to capitalize on. In fact, Cotton Traders’ new app helped it grow its digital sales YoY by over 80%. 

Managing the pivot to digital 

Having worked with Poq to launch its Android mobile app in February 2021, in complement to its existing iOS version, Will Rose, Head of Ecommerce & Technology, Hotter agreed that digital had become a much more important strategic part of the footwear retailer’s business. 

“It’s been a really difficult time for Hotter, as it has for many retailers,” explained Rose, “and we’ve reduced our store footprint by just over 50. With people not being able to go to stores, we noticed the increased demand that that created online was also mirrored in our apps.”

Rose reported that customer shopping journeys were very similar, but that conversion was “a lot higher” on the app: “So our strategy going forward is to get as many customers onto the app as possible because, when they do, they’re much more likely to convert, which is obviously great for our business.”

Hurst concurred: “We found certainly our average conversion rate, revenue per user and other standard metrics, were substantially higher on the app than mobile web, which we expected to a large degree, because we’re aware that we’re going to transfer a lot more engaged customers over to the app.” 

Understanding customers through apps

Cotton Traders is also now doing longer-term analysis of how app customer sales perform so it can better understand the incremental revenue attributable solely to its mobile app. Hurst also suggested that browsing habits of app customers could be used to inform its range planning and forecasting decisions, both in-store as well as online. 

Another appcommerce advantage Hurst and Rose cited was knowing which customers are browsing and buying what. Rose said Hotter customers demand the same experience on both web and app nowadays, while Hurst noted that an increase in younger males browsing the Cotton Traders app helped it update its merchandising and marketing activities to suit. 

“Product demand changed, so marketing and merchandising had to change too,” Hurst said. “A big thing for us was to increase the push notification opt-in rate for iOS users (who aren’t automatically opted in like Android users are). We’ve noticed that the more channels our customers are opted into, whether its email or push notifications, the higher value they’re likely to be.”

He reported that, after optimizing the onboarding process using new pop-screens introduced with Poq’s v17 Pulsar platform release, Cotton Traders was able to increase its iOS push notification opt-in rate fivefold. 

Bridging the online-offline gap 

Rose added that Hotter was also looking to introduce new virtual and augmented reality fitting technologies in its app to take advantage of the native capabilities of Poq’s platform. “What we now want to do is have a marketing strategy that will support that and help make our customers aware of it,” he explained.

The future for both Cotton Traders and Hotter, however, was not just about building on the engagement and success gained during lockdowns by further developing their apps. It was more importantly about how both retailers continue to evolve their overall customer journeys. 

For Rose, the role that apps have to play in bridging the gap between online and offline will be key for Hotter going forward. “A big challenge for us, with a reduction in stores, is how we entice customers into our stores and we’re looking to use the app to do that,” he concluded. 

Comments were taken from the Poq AppRising 2021 AppGrowth roundtable discussion, ‘Strategies in a pandemic – planning during uncertain time,’ hosted by freelance retail expert and Poq content writer, Miya Knights.

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