How Often Do Retail App Users Refer Friends? The Stats Tell Two Stories

ABI Research on Tuesday (May 8) published a survey that found that 45 percent of smartphone users who have downloaded the retail-branded app of a chain visit that brand's store more often. But it's the drilldown behind those stats that is particularly interesting. To start with, it's not merely a self-limiting sample. Rather, it's the universe of shoppers who download, say, the Lowe's app, and who are likely to already be huge fans of that brand.

The key takeaways that ABI stressed from its survey are that those who had downloaded that retailer's mobile app said the app directly caused the shopper to visit the store more (45.8 percent), buy more of the store/brand's products and services (40.4 percent), tell a friend about their store shopping experience (35.8 percent) and encourage friends to visit the store (30.8 percent).

The most striking thing about those stats is that they are less than 50 percent. That means the opposite it also true; namely, that 54.2 percent of that chain's biggest fans do not find that the app makes them go to the store more, 59.6 percent do not buy more products or services because of the app, 64.2 percent do not tell friends about it and a whopping 69.2 percent do not think the app makes them encourage their friends to visit the store.

The problem with interpreting those numbers and taking any actions because of them is that they suffer from the same problems as do all surveys. Take, for example, that "encourage friends to visit" stat. Why did it fare so poorly? Do those shoppers, in fact, encourage their friends but interpreted the question so as to limit their answer to what the app causes? Even more problematic is this thought: According to ABI senior analyst Mark Beccue (who oversaw the survey), the surveyed were presented with a long list of options and they were asked to check all that apply.

The friends option, for example, was at the very end of the list. Could the surveyed have gotten bored and moved on to the next question? Would the friends question have delivered a much different answer had it been the first choice? Without retaking the survey, there's no way to know.

As for arguing that most of the respondents answered negatively, Beccue said the newness of retail apps means numbers that get anywhere near 50 percent are impressively favorable.

"We're at the very front end for these kinds of behaviors," he said. "It's unfair to hold a (very new) technology up to that kind of standard. All of those answers were very positive for something that hasn't been around very long."

This survey started by talking with 2,000 shoppers, and it then focused solely on the 985 of them who were U.S. smartphone users. Of those, only about 25 percent had downloaded mobile apps from major retail brands, so that brought the surveyed group down to about 246.

As is the case with almost all surveys, the participants weren't interviewed to clarify if they properly understood the questions. Many will interpret them differently, making the results carry much less meaning.

ABI consistently turns out some of the better—and much more thoughtful—research in its space. But it's always good for retail IT execs to think about the environment of a survey—and what else might influence the answers—before taking any action.