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Today, it seems like there’s a mobile app for just about anything you could possibly want to do or buy. You might think that having an app for your business is a must, but that might not be the case.

How can you determine whether designing and promoting an app makes sense for your business? There are a few important things to consider when you are making your decision:

  1. Who are your customers? If you know that the majority of your customers use smartphones based on your web analytics, then having a mobile app might be a good idea. If the majority of your customers are finding your business on desktop computers, on the other hand, you might want to save your money and invest it elsewhere.
  2. Can you afford the development costs? If you’ve got a background in software development you may be able to develop a great app on your own. But if you don’t, you’re going to have to hire someone to do the work, and those costs can add up.
  3. Is there a way for you to monetize your app? Some apps are aimed at making things easier for customers, and the financial benefits of having one might be difficult to quantify. However, if you can have in-app purchasing then it might be very easy for you to recoup your development expenses.
  4. Does your business lend itself to having an app? Apps are popular and a lot of businesses have them, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically jump on the bandwagon. Sometimes there’s a clear use for an app. For example, a lot of restaurants that deliver food have apps to make it easy for customers to order from them.

The last question is arguably the most important one. Developing and promoting an app is only worthwhile if your customers are going to use it. That means that your app needs to cater to your customers’ needs.

Offering Value to Customers

Even if your initial response is to think that your business doesn’t lend itself to having a mobile app, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about apps in a big picture kind of way. What does a mobile app need to accomplish to be useful to customers? Any one of the following things might do in terms of offering value to your customers:

  • Increase customer engagement. Some companies offer apps that make suggestions about how to use products. For example, a food manufacturer might offer an app that features recipes, social sharing, and an occasional coupon or promotion.
  • Improve customers’ experience. If a lot of your customers are mobile users, it might make sense to offer them a convenient way to make purchases or schedule services from their phones. The Dominos app that allows customers to order pizza using their phones is one good example. You might have a mobile site already, but an app can make purchasing even easier.
  • Make customers’ lives easier. A lot of banks and credit unions now offer customers a way to deposit checks using their smartphones. Not only are apps that allow deposits great for customer service, they legitimately make their customers’ lives less hectic. Once they would have had to drive to the bank to make a deposit – now they can do it from the comfort of their own homes.
  • Give customers a reason to visit your store. Some apps use GPS to send out coupons and promotional codes when customers are close to a store.

I hope you get the idea. If you can conceptualize an app that will meet one or more of the above criteria, then it probably makes sense for you to spend the time and money to develop an app for your business.

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Ideas for Apps

If you have decided that your business could benefit from having a mobile app, the next step is coming up with a concept for the app. In this section, I’ll give you some ideas for apps that might work well in various industries:

  1. Retail. Retails stores tend to do very well with monetized apps. Here are a few suggestions for how to use them:
    • Send out coupons and promotional codes. Everyone loves to get a deal, and when you send a coupon you give customers a reason to come to your store.
    • Give suggestions on how to use your product. For example, an apparel retailer might add images of items they sell to an app and let customers play mix and match with their merchandise.
    • Enable in-app purchases. Building on the above idea, a great idea for a clothing store would be to let customers mix and match clothing, and then give them an option at the end to buy the ensemble they created.
  2. Service industry. If you are a service provider and not a retailer, you might think that you don’t need a mobile app. However, there are plenty of ways to offer customers value by selling a mobile app. For example:
    • Combine fun and scheduling. A hair salon might offer an app that lets customers “try on” different hair styles, and then makes it possible for them to schedule an appointment when they’re done.
    • Give service reminders. There are plenty of services that require repeat appointments, such as dental cleanings and oil changes. One feature to include with an app might be a reminder to customers to schedule their next appointment and an in-app feature that lets them schedule it from their phone.
    • Offer related information. Informational apps can be very useful in some instances. For example, an insurance agent might offer an app that lets customers calculate their insurance needs and then request a quote.
  3. Membership services. What if you own a gym or other membership service? Your app options might appear to be limited, but here are a couple of suggestions:
    • Create an app that sends out daily tips and suggestions on a topic that’s relevant to your members.
    • Offer a related service. For example, a gym might offer an app that provided a calorie counter or some healthy recipes.

Some businesses don’t need to have a mobile app to be successful. However, if you have a good idea for an app that offers value and convenience to your customers – and a chance for you to make money – then it’s probably worth the up-front investment it will take to create and market an app of your own.

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