Our website uses cookies

Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing Essential Retail Magazine, you agree to our use of cookies.

Okay, I understand Learn more

Is retail safe in the age of disruptive apps?

Welcome to the future, where a small piece of code can change the world.

Apps have demonstrated the power to shift entire markets, disrupting and destabilising once unshakable industries in an afternoon. Did taxi companies ever expect to have their market ripped out from under them by a simple app? And if they can go, who’s next?

Personally, I think it could be the gym industry.

Gym memberships in the UK have been growing steadily to their current peak of around 9 million, but two-thirds of people tend not to go back after the first couple of months. Apps have the power to engage users wherever they are and whatever they’re into, making them perfect for health and fitness.

Six to Start’s most popular app, Zombies, Run!, has nearly 4 million downloads across iTunes and Google Play. The app uses stories set in a zombie apocalypse to motivate users to run a little faster and longer than usual.

I love to run but I find the gym boring. So, I wanted to create an app that would make running fun and inspire people to get out and exercise. With our co-creator, Naomi Alderman – an award-winning novelist – we hit upon the idea of using storytelling to make exercising fun and exciting. It’s proven to be a fantastic combination.

Is retail at risk?

Every traditional business is potentially at risk. For a new business looking to disrupt any market, the barriers to entry are much lower when it comes to apps. All you really need to get going is a great idea and a solid plan.

We used Kickstarter to launch Zombies, Run!, offering a range of rewards to people willing to donate. Not only did that give us six times the capital we needed to launch, it also created this massive crowd of loyal supporters.

The same goes for equity crowdfunding. We recently launched our latest project on Crowdcube and in this way we’re getting seasoned investors on-board to help guide us to success.

So, if some new kid on the block comes up with a great disruptive retail business idea they could quite easily go from initial planning through to launch within a year. That’s almost too fast for established businesses to react.

What can retail businesses learn from the app revolution?

Every success is the result of a series of challenges overcome, generating a lot of learning on the way.

I know it’s becoming a bit cliché now, but content really does make a difference. Zombies, Run! is engaging because it has great stories. And we regularly create new content for our users, new stories and levels to complete, so it never gets stale.

If retail businesses want to keep apps at bay they need to work out how to use technology to create amazing, fresh experiences. That’s what people want these days: amazing experiences.

For Uber, it was this really slick user experience. A few taps on your phone and there is a clean, comfortable cab sitting at your door. For us it was stories. Perhaps for retail it will be something quite different.

A number of retailers are already experimenting with virtual shopping assistants and big supermarkets are now offering discount coupons through native apps. But, personally I believe retailers need to think bigger.

If small app developers can go from relative obscurity to generating millions of downloads for what is essentially a subscription app, surely big retail businesses can create something even better? If they don’t, they almost certainly won’t be safe. Give it long enough and some upstart business will cause massive disruption for the industry.

Adrian Hon is CEO of Six to Start (co-creators of Zombies, Run!), author of ‘A History of the Future in 100 Objects’ and a former neuroscientist and tech writer.

Six to Start are co-creators of Zombies, Run! - the world's most popular smartphone fitness game with 250,000 active players, 30 million km logged online, and 200+ epic missions. To find out more: https://www.crowdcube.com/companies/six-to-start/pitches/bXG8mZ#