Mobile app retention rates are generally low.  A Localytics study revealed that the average app loses 64% of its users within the first 30 days.  After 90 days 80% of users have abandoned most apps.  The news for retailers is only slightly better with 22% of users still engaging the average mobile shopping app after 90 days while the top performing apps in retail manage to hold on to 29% of users in the same time period.   The slightly higher retention rates of retail apps is no doubt due to the effects of brand loyalty but this isn’t enough to keep users engaged over the long haul, especially if the app itself doesn’t deliver a satisfactory user experience.  User’s expectations of apps are increasing and most cite poor user experience as their number one reason for uninstalling.  Your product, your brand and your marketing may be ticking all the right boxes but if your app fails to deliver the experience customers expect you’re missing out on potential sales.

Getting the app right is clearly important if shoppers are to be persuaded to continue to use it, perhaps moreso for retailers than those in many other industries because the criteria a shopping app has to meet in order to successfully fulfil its core function are more demanding and critical to its performance than most.  Not being able to clearly view images in a news or business app won’t greatly hamper its success if the written content is good.  For a shopping app, not being able to clearly view product images or easily check out virtually guarantees users won’t be buying your product no matter how great that product is.  If you fail to convince users why they should be shopping on your app the first time around you likely won’t get a second chance.

Below are four common issues users cite as frustrating enough to deter them from mobile shopping.  Mobile users have unique needs and anticipating and designing around these needs will greatly increase your app’s ability to keep your customers happy.


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The Display Is Small

The mobile device’s small display is a particular problem for mobile shopping apps as the inability to see and touch a product in person means that the app must show as clearly as possible what it is the user is actually buying.  Compared to a desktop display or even a laptop, the image that can be displayed on a mobile phone is small and therefore more difficult to clearly see.   This can be helped by being able to easily pinch and zoom to resize images to see details close up.  This applies particularly to clothing and other items where details in design or construction are important but are not easily discernible in a small full-size image. Providing high quality images showing multiple angles that can be viewed close up goes a long way towards helping buyers make confident purchasing decisions.

Another less immediately obvious drawback to limited screen size is reduced context.  A smaller screen makes it more difficult for the user to get an overview of the page, remember prior content and compare various options.  For example filling in a long form on a small screen means that the title of the form isn’t visible for long and the context of fields further down is less clear without being able to easily scan the whole form.  As previous input quickly scrolls out of view, errors are also more likely to go unnoticed leading to frustration when incorrect information is submitted.  Consider splitting forms over multiple screens to keep things clearer and providing a summary screen to allow users to review information before submitting.

Poor Navigation

Making potential purchases easy to find is one of a retail app’s core functions.  Minimizing the number of steps required to find a particular product is necessary if your app is not to feel cumbersome and confusing.  Users expect navigation to be intuitive and easy to use and a screen cluttered with too many buttons or requiring too many steps to move between different areas can quickly turn shopping on your app into a chore rather than a pleasure.

It’s important to identify the priority tasks that your users are trying to accomplish and make sure those areas are clearly signposted.  A simple row of buttons is a good way to highlight the main features of the app (e.g. shop, search, basket, wishlist) and allow the user to move quickly between them.  If your navigation requires more options an off-screen toggle menu that reveals a vertical scroll list of further links works well (horizontally scrolling lists are not a good idea as they make it difficult to see much information at once and are more awkward to swipe through).  Making the main menu and primary buttons accessible from every screen is important as continually moving through intermediary screens in order to access the menu or other oft used buttons can become tedious if different areas of the app are being accessed in quick succession.

Make buttons and other links large enough to both read clearly and tap accurately.  Mobile users are often on the go, dealing with real world distractions and being unable to see at a glance and easily tap the desired button or tapping the wrong place and ending up somewhere unexpected is a fast way to create a frustrating experience.  Users on the go don’t have much patience and mistakes will inevitably happen so including an easily visible back button will make navigating your app feel more forgiving.

Inappropriate Push Notifications

The ability to push a call to action, a reminder or an update alert straight to a user’s phone is a definite strength of mobile apps. According to LocalyticsUsers who have enabled push launch an app an average of 14.7 times per month, whereas users who have not enabled push messages will only launch an app 5.4 times per month. In other words, users that have push messages enabled average 3x more app launches than those who have not enabled push messages.“

Used correctly push notifications are a powerful tool but prompting users to engage with your app can be a double edged sword and if not used judiciously can become more of a turn off than a motivator.  A push notification telling a single male user that dresses are now on sale ends up feeling like generic and unwanted clutter on his phone.  Notifications that don’t speak directly to the user’s interests, activity or preferences can feel like spam.  Personalizing the notifications you send will make them feel like a helpful tip as opposed to an unwanted distraction.  Tailoring notifications based on age, gender, location, favorites or recently viewed items will make your users feel special and are much more likely to lead to reengagement with your app in a positive way.

Frequency matters.  Even customised notifications can become ineffective if they’re arriving in a constant stream.  Over time your users will become desensitised and start ignoring and auto deleting them.  Reminding someone they have items left in their basket or that an item on their wishlist has gone on sale is fine and may be welcomed once or twice but if you’ve told them five days in a row and they still haven’t made that purchase the chances are they’re not going to; your notifications are more likely to being perceived as an annoyance than a welcome reminder.  Using push notifications carefully, when you actually have something important and useful to communicate, like a limited time offer or a new app update or feature makes them more likely to be heeded and acted upon.

Difficult Checkout/Payment Process

Despite mobile app retail sales growing rapidly, mobile ecommerce conversion rates are still lower and abandoned baskets more frequent than their equivalents on desktop computers.  Poor mobile app checkout processes are a part of the problem.

Mobile users are more likely to be on the go and less likely to have the luxury of time and patience.  They’re also being distracted by calls, notifications and what’s happening around them, they’re using a small screen and fiddly keyboard and also may not have a constant or reliable data connection.  There are clearly many things that can impede or completely stop the mobile checkout process and so it’s even more important to design a process that takes these conditions into account.

A user who is distracted or in a hurry is more likely to abandon the checkout process if it feels like it’s taking too long or is too complicated.  A well designed progress bar showing the current location in the process can make things less stressful by letting the user know how many steps are left to complete the transaction.

Many mobile shoppers are more likely to be buying something they’ve quickly made a decision about and knowing exactly what they want they just want to get to paying for it as quickly as possible.  Being able to add products straight to the cart from a product list reduces the number of clicks needed to make the purchase as does giving users the option to “Quick Buy” taking them directly to the checkout.  If the user is logged into their account with payment and shipping details already saved the buying process could be as easy as three taps.  Making it easy for existing users to log in or keeping them automatically logged in increases the chances they’ll continue purchasing through your app.

Forcing new users to create an account in order to make a purchase can be enough to stop the checkout process before it even begins.  Giving them the option to check out as a guest means they’re more likely to come back when they have more time and create an account to make future purchases easier.

Entering personal information into forms with a fiddly keyboard can be difficult, especially if the form is poorly designed. Disabling autocorrect in name fields removes the frustration of having to delete and retype a name and using a postcode lookup tool is an easy way of avoiding users having to type addresses out in full.   A checkbox allowing the user to use the billing address as the shipping address saves time and makes the process easier while making the keyboard field sensitive so that it becomes purely numerical when entering credit card information is a relief to both the fingers and the eyes.  Temporarily storing entered information locally avoids the annoyance of having to fill the form in again if the data connection is temporarily lost when the form is submitted.

Clearly the challenges of designing a successful shopping app are unique but your app’s potential to provide a powerful channel for your customers to engage with your business while away from home or on the go is huge and shouldn’t be ignored.  A well thought out app design that finds ways to avoid, resolve or work around these challenges is guaranteed to keep your customers happily scrolling, swiping, tapping and buying.


NN4M is the largest provider of transactional retail apps and mobile solutions in the UK.  Our in-house team combines world-class development, design, usability and engineering talent to create, manage and optimise award-winning transactional mobile applications, transforming the way people shop one app at a time.