If retailers choose to build a mobile app, they must give customers a reason to use the app every day. That is the view of Chris Bertin, group mobile product manager at Mothercare. “If you do that, the commerce part takes care of itself.”

Mothercare launched its award-winning app nearly four years ago, which provides the retailer with a shopping channel, as well as tools and advice to help parents going through the life-changing experience of having a baby. 

The Mothercare app includes typical retail functionalities, like wish lists, as well as useful tools such as Baby Tunes, which is a collection of lullabies, sing-a-longs and white noises parents can play to their children.

Bertin said this feature is so popular that 65% of feature session occur in Baby Tunes. 

“Customers use it every night, if their baby doesn’t sleep, the customer doesn’t sleep,” he explained. “In white noises we have a hoover and a hairdryer and it really works. If you listen to them – it’s actually my own hoover!” 

Meanwhile, the Rituals app provides a sales channel as well as yoga videos and meditation exercises. “Meditation is around 25% of the app, but it is the most valuable part,” said Martijn Cornelissen, global eCommerce manager at Rituals. “It leads to retention, and customers come back and the app is part of their daily routine and lives.”

The two retailers were speaking during a break-out session at the Demandware Xchange conference in Berlin last week, and they both said their mobile apps increase conversion.

Bertin said conversion on the Mothercare app is double than the mobile site. Additionally, 70% of Mothercare customers are signed in when they purchase on the mobile app, compared to 70% guest checkout online. “The app really is for the loyal customers, but I think the app creates loyal customers as well.”

Bertin also said a mobile app cannot just be a replica of the mobile website. “Customers won’t enjoy it and we need to give them a reason to use it over the mobile site.”

Both Mothercare and Rituals chose to develop a native app using third party developers. 

“I work in UX, so for me, it’s all about customer experience and native is the best,” said Bertin. “Hybrid and web apps, they are potentially cost saving because the code base is similar to other web channels, but it is worth going the extra mile because you never get as good page load times and performance on a web-based app.”

Cornelissen agreed, explaining how the Rituals mobile app was custom built. “But I would do it differently today, because finding developers is really tough,” he said. “Three years ago the world looked a bit different, but I would go framework – you lose out a little bit on native functionality, but it’s got to the stage where it’s so professional, it’s good enough.”

Both retailers launched their apps on iOS and Android, but Mothercare launched on iOS nine months before Android. Bertin advised retailers to build both at the same time. “Purely because you get a backlash from the Android fan boys,” he laughed. “But also offering an incentive of £10 off your first order, really riled the Android users.”

He also advised retailers to have a big budget for testing on various devices – particularly on Android because it has many device-specific bugs. “We use a third-party testing company which has thousands of devices, but use website analytics and choose your top ten handsets to test, plus an odd few from the obscure list just to make sure.”

Bertin also said there is no point in launching a basic app in phase one as it will annoy customers. “You have to give them a reason to download it because it is using up valuable memory on their phone.”

But Cornelissen said he can see a future where customers stream apps via a subscription model – similar to Netflix – rather than owning an app which takes up precious space on a shopper’s smartphone. 

“So when you enter the store, the app is there and it becomes less important how many apps you have.”