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How Native Ecommerce Apps Help Retain and Engage Customers

For online retailers, native ecommerce apps are no longer a “nice to have” resource, they are essential if retailers want to harness the growing mobile market.

Sounds like a bold statement, right? But consider some recent research from Statista:

  • Mobile sales are currently 34.5% of all ecommerce sales, but this is expected to reach 53.9% by 2021.
  • Of all mobile purchases made, 51% were completed through a native ecommerce app.

It’s fair to say that the quality of native ecommerce apps has improved over the last few years, helping to facilitate the growth seen in these statistics. Customer retention and engagement are crucial requirements leading to the growth of ecommerce app usage, so any improvements should center on ways to boost these metrics.

Let’s explore how native ecommerce apps are helping retailers to retain and engage customers:

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How are mobile ecommerce apps performing?

One of the biggest shopping days in the annual calendar has been providing clues for the last few years as to how mobile is performing. According to Statista, during Black Friday 2016, 48% of online sales were made via mobile, while 65.1% of those came from smartphones. 10 million more Americans chose to shop online rather than in-store..

So we know mobile has a huge part to play, but what is the role of those native ecommerce apps? Criteo examines this in their State of Mobile Commerce report and finds that native apps outperform both mobile web and desktop in terms of conversions.

Source: Criteo

It’s not just the year’s busiest shopping day where people choose to go mobile, it’s becoming a clear lifestyle choice at any time. The Criteo report shows us that overall, 44% of retail ecommerce transactions are made on mobile devices.

In other research from Flurry, mobile users are spending 90% of their time in apps, with only 10% of time now being spent in web browsers. This sends a clear signal as to the importance of your native app – mobile users may not even find your mobile-optimized website from their device if they’re spending so little of their time using a web browser.

As for measures of retention and engagement, here are a few statistics to chew on:

  • New app users are twice as likely to return within 30 days as compared to mobile web users (Criteo)
  • The average ecommerce app gets 17.5 launches per month (Localytics)
  • Native app users spend 30% more and view four times more products (Criteo)
Native ecommerce apps outperform browsers for engagement and retention Click To Tweet

Why ecommerce apps are outperforming

The next logical question is, what makes mobile users prefer to use those native ecommerce apps? Why are apps outperforming other channels in terms of engagement and the retention of users?

You’ll probably have some thoughts from your own experiences with ecommerce apps. Admittedly, not all apps do well, but that often tends to be because they have made one or more major faux pas with the execution of the app.

Here are some of the reasons why native apps do well:

They incorporate customer preferences

Simplicity is key to a good shopping experience for mobile-based customers. Any hiccup or interruption to the process of them browsing, selecting and purchasing goods can lead to them becoming frustrated and simply abandoning their session.

Ecommerce apps do well when customer preferences and the state of the app remain in place once they have been set. This means that the customer remains in a logged-in state in the app when they come back to it. Research shows that the path to purchase on mobile is often not linear. The user might browse while they’re waiting for an appointment then come back to it later, perhaps even on another device. Almost 4 in 10 transactions involve the use of multiple devices.

It’s a great source of irritation for many people if they’re always forced to login again, perhaps with issues remembering passwords or usernames. A mobile app that keeps the user logged in helps to eliminate that possible source of friction. It’s also an advantage over mobile web, which will not be able to keep a customer logged in for the next time they bring up the website.

As for the customer preferences, you could also think of each one as a possible source of friction, particularly if the customer has to search around, find their credit card again, or take any kind of extra action in order to proceed with a transaction. Saved search history, order history, shipping information, and credit card details are all features which help to ease the customer experience with the app.

Ease of payment options

Ecommerce apps have many different options they can choose to offer when it comes to accepting payments. Again, this is an opportunity to make the process seamless for the customer.

Saving credit card information is great, but what about those customers who are new users or who are using a guest checkout? You still want to be able to offer something relatively painless to keep them engaged with the process.

Fortunately, there are a number of options that can keep the payment experience easy for customers who choose not to store credit card details with the app. Options like Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, PayPal, and the incorporation of the touch ID all encourage users to go through with a transaction using a trusted payment method that is familiar to them. Most people will have at least one of those options already set up.

Simple navigation

Have you ever tried to use an ecommerce retailer’s mobile website, then compared using that to using their mobile app? The differences in terms of ease of navigation and how quickly items can be found is usually quite striking.

Mobile sites are often touted as “optimized” for mobile, but that doesn’t mean they’re providing an optimum experience for the user. They’re often no more than a shrunken version of the retailer’s regular website, meaning the mobile user is endlessly scrolling, and pinching or expanding their screen to try to find things or to be able to click on a button. Many users will give up in frustration, in fact, mobile app conversion rates eclipse those of mobile browsers, even though apps have 54% of the mobile traffic compared to 46% for browsers.

By contrast, a native ecommerce app provides simple menus and easy navigation that has truly been designed for the mobile experience. You are much more likely to engage and retain someone when they don’t need to pinch, expand, or scroll for an extended period.

Seamless deep linking

“Deep linking” is a way to transport a customer to a specific item or piece of content within your app. It is necessary to have this type of linking because otherwise, people clicking on the link won’t reach your app. This becomes very significant to the engagement of native ecommerce app users when your pause to consider where these deep links are usually shared – by email.

Here’s a scenario that illustrates the point. You send out an email advertising a sale in your ecommerce store, perhaps it’s even a mobile-only promotion for certain key products. People on your list receive your email and open it on their mobile phones. A Movable Ink study found that around 68% of emails are opened on mobile phones, so there’s a good chance this scenario will play out.

Once the the customer opens the email, they are presented with products that have deep links through to your ecommerce app. The customer can now seamlessly click on the link, arrive on the product in your app (which has kept them logged in), and effortlessly add it to their cart.

Without deep linking, what is going to happen? When the customer clicks on the product link, it will open up the mobile website, which will then ask them to login – an immediate friction point for the customer. Deep linking is an opportunity to facilitate the ease of use of the app.


Pew Research has found that 77% of Americans own smartphones with an increasing number of those using it as their only means of internet connection. We check our phones a heck of a lot on a daily basis – a typical user touches his or her phone 2617 times in a day! “Extreme” users touch their phones 5400 times each day and even when it’s not actively in use, it’s never far away.

This illustrates that one of the clear advantages to having a native ecommerce app for engagement is visibility on the phone screen. Mobile websites have to be brought up in the web browser, but an app with a well-designed icon can pop right off the screen for users.

That app visibility can carry across to other devices, too. Cross-device transactions accounted for 37% of all transactions in Q4 according to a Criteo report. Even if the purchase isn’t completed in one sitting or even in the app itself, that mobile app provides a valuable tool to facilitate the sale later on.

Look around you when out in public on any given day and you’ll see plenty of opportunity being used for browsing through a mobile phone with people sitting in the park at lunchtime or waiting for the bus after work. An ecommerce app makes you visible and on-the-spot to capture any of those moments.

Another feature of mobile apps that can help to promote visibility and engagement is push notifications. Localytics found that 43% of those who enabled push notifications had returned to the app within a month of download compared to just 9% who didn’t enable push notifications. Finding a way to promote or incentivize enabling push notifications is a strategy ecommerce app owners should keep in mind.

How can you convince customers to allow push notifications? Get our tips here

Capture your “power users”

Some of the numbers around app use may seem discouraging, particularly that last point about just 9% of users returning to the app within a month of download if they hadn’t enabled push notifications. Are native apps still engaging enough to be worth it?

One point to keep in mind is that app downloads and frequent use will often tend to come from a core group of your most loyal customers. Like many things, you could probably apply the Pareto Principle, where 80% of the value is derived from 20% of customers. The most loyal customers tend to be in the top 2%.

From this perspective, a quality native app is a great opportunity to capture and deliver a valuable experience for those “power users.” Mobile is what they are using and demanding, so you have the chance to listen to top customers and capture their mobile moments. As a “Think With Google” article states of apps:

“They’re a powerful way for brands to build deeper relationships with their customers.”

Deliver a better overall experience

As a final point, native ecommerce apps engage and retain customers by taking into account each point made here and delivering a better overall experience for mobile users. A native app can dial into the unique features of mobile devices (such as location and use of the camera) to enhance customer use well beyond what a mobile browser can do.

Your native ecommerce app is there to capture the right moments for the customer – the forgotten birthdays or the downtime while waiting – and give them a seamless experience.

Customers have spoken and they increasingly show a preference for native apps. Savvy ecommerce retailers who answer to that need can be rewarded with improved engagement and retention.

Author: Emily Gomez & Einar Vollset, Corresponding Author:


For each teardown we collect over 200 data points, including UX best practices, search capabilities, payment integrations as well as re-engagement tactics and social/engagement features. Each teardown includes an overall score, along with the score for each of the 20+ categories we collect data under. We then provides either video and/or slideshow content of the actual app, highlighting important parts of the app along with particularly good, bad or surprising functionality.