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Apps: the future may be mobile but it’s already in fashion

13 February, 2013

Mango has had apps adapted to different mobile devices and operating systems since 2010. / Mango

Experts have long asserted that the concept of mobility is a key concern for many sectors. Fashion is no exception.

Using information and making commercial transactions on mobile devices is becoming increasingly popular and brands are updating their strategies to adapt to these new demands. One of the ways they hope to achieve this is through native applications for cell phones and tablets.

For quite a while now companies like Mango, Privalia, Zara, Desigual, TCN and others – an impressive list of fashion labels – not to mention international companies such as H&M, Hugo Boss, Victoria Secret and Addidas, have been using apps for mobile devices to meet the growing consumer trend of finding information and products on their smartphones and tablets.

“We want to be on every channel our customers are,” explains Mango’s online director, Elena Carasso. The firm has had apps for all its product lines – womenswear, menswear and accessories – adapted to different mobile devices and operating systems since 2010.

Mobile and apps

According to Carasso, an expert in mobile marketing, Mango decided to start developing its own mobile apps two years ago. “The key to making an app appealing is added value. You have to offer a service that is well differentiated and very specific. If you can manage that, they can be very powerful marketing tools which get very high conversion rates.” The features specific to native applications allow brands to work very intensely on  building customer loyalty. One of the tools that make this possible are push messages, which keep  customers up to date on the latest products and developments available on the brand’s application.

Mango has a very clear understanding that its app primarily attracts “the firm’s biggest fans. Compared to the internet, our apps’ conversion rate is higher because the people who have them are very loyal fans of Mango products. But the mobile web generates more traffic and sales,” Carasso says. The Catalan firm’s online director believes that “mobile internet technology is coming on in leaps and bounds and offering services and developments that weren’t possible before the applications.” As a result of this, as well as the cost of developing a native application and the fact that the investment can’t be paid off in the short term, many companies are opting to use specific websites tailored for mobile devices, which are less expensive.

“Our new focus, and we’re not going to drop out of all the places our customers are, is mobile internet. We think these applications will be accepted by our biggest fans as long as they offer clear added value,” Carasso explains. This opinion is shared by Jan Badosa, the creative developer of the Barcelona-based firm Digital Seeds. “Native apps are in fashion, but what will really grow and consolidate is mobile internet with specific brand information for these devices. Clients generally don’t download a lot of applications; what they do is go online with their mobile devices.”

Ubiquity and fashion

The increasing use of smartphone sales strategies like Mango’s is linked to strong growth in the European mobile phone market. According to the European Mobile Industry Observatory 2011, mobile communication has become a key industry in Europe, comparable in size to the aerospace and pharmaceutical industries, generating revenue of 174 billion euros. This is primarily due to mobile communications’ ability to penetrate any economic subsector and their critical role in improving production, distribution and marketing strategies.

If we focus on the latter, the major fashion brands have embraced mobile technology as a way to improve their marketing and communication policies to promote customer loyalty and attract new customers, with the ultimate aim of boosting revenue. This approach is also benefitting the many app development firms in Barcelona, some of which are already working with Catalan fashion companies to develop their own applications.

One example is Digital Seeds, which has been developing apps as part of its line of mobile marketing services and which worked on the application used by the company TCN. “Today you have to be able to reach your audience through any mechanism: handing out materials on the street, having offers on the sites with the largest audiences, radio ads, and having a presence on mobile devices. There is no single winning strategy so you have to have a presence, look at what you are doing and redirect your focus. You have to do this in cycles and be flexible enough to adapt to new situations quickly,” says Badosa.

According to this expert, users are increasingly “visual” consumers who want to get all the information they are looking for with a single click whenever they feel like it. “So you need to be on the mobile devices and not miss any chance to generate brand impact or get a recommendation,” he adds.

More mobile data

According to European Mobile Industry Observatory 2011 figures, mobile services are available to nearly 100% of the population of Europe and 456 million European citizens have a mobile device. A great deal of these people are customers with smartphones, a figure the Observatory says is expected to grow by 33% over the next few years.

Tablets will also grow at a rate of around 57% per year, and both of these types of devices are drivers of mobile data traffic, which is expected to increase by 90% a year for the next five years.

According to one of the founding partners of App2u, Enric Solà, in this environment the apps market is bound to grow and although there will be advances in mobile technology, brands will continue to choose to have their own applications. “Just look at the smartphone market and the growth of app sales volumes at some of the main application stores. App Store just hit the figure of 25 billion app downloads – a number that speaks volumes,” explains the head of this firm which specialises in developing applications and also has its head office in Barcelona.

A good app

The secret to the evolution of the market for fashion brand applications is not only in the different competing technologies, as is the case with mobile internet technology and its price, but also their features. Solà explains further: “An app which is made specifically for one device,  for example the iPhone, makes 100% use of that device’s resources. It’s quick, efficient, no-nonsense. I think the need for applications will be internalised to the point that we won’t know what to do without them.”

As for what characteristics make a good app for a fashion company, Badosa points out that it is critical that the application not only have a “looks” section for the brand, it also has to be easy to view and users should to be able to compare and share their favourite products on social networks and add them to their wish lists. Solà concludes that speed and usability are key. “It’s really important that the brand’s app be intuitive, pleasing to the eye and simple. And if you want to be successful you have to make sure it’s an application the client uses every day or as often as possible.”

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