iPhone apps: British Airways, Ocado and Oasis explain why they did it

How a smartphone mobile app makes business sense

How a smartphone mobile app makes business sense

Part one of silicon.com's series on mobile applications looked at the business case for apps and examined the issues to consider before taking the plunge.

In the second part of the series Natasha Lomas profiles a number of iPhone apps launched by businesses and talks to some of the execs involved to learn more about what they have done, and how it has worked for them.

The company: Online supermarket Ocado

The app: Ocado on the go - iPhone app (free)

Features include: Browse and shop for groceries, even when offline; place new orders and amend next order; syncing with Ocado.com; create typical orders, based on previous deliveries; same day delivery

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Image credit: Ocado

Doing your shopping from your smartphone may have seemed ridiculous a few years ago but is now increasingly common. Jon Rudoe, head of retail at online grocery delivery business Ocado explains why.

What was your business case for launching an app?
"The [problem] that people are trying to solve is: 'How do I get my cupboard stocked and my fridge full with the products I want? How do I find, select and retrieve my weekly grocery needs?'

"When you look at the world like that then you almost become platform agnostic. So, rather than sitting there thinking 'well, I must have a website', or 'I must have a supermarket', or 'I must have whatever', you actually find yourself thinking 'I must have a mechanism for people to fulfil that want/need/job'... And then all you have to ask yourself is: 'Do people want to do that on this platform?'."

How much research did you do before you launched the app?
"It was quite easy, at the stage we started developing, to look at the market and to look at where most of the phone usage was.

"We did some research and we can obviously spot which customers were visiting our regular website from which mobile devices and obviously we could understand general statistics about iPhones and other smartphone penetration.

"[An iPhone app was] a pretty obvious first place to start, basically."

How are you judging the success of the app?
"We don't release a lot of stats but one that is already publically available is that the iPhone platform accounts for two per cent of our sales and to give you an idea on downloads, again one could observe that it reached number 15 on the free download charts for Apple shortly after release, so it's been very popular in terms of download and in terms of sales.

"How do we measure it? Now, it's hard to know what success and failure is sometimes in these situations and we...

...can obviously look at the customers who shop with us through the app and we can see them becoming more engaged with the service.

"We can see those customers becoming more loyal and more 'sticky' to the service and that makes sense given that they've now got an extra way they can shop with us.

"We can also see a number of new customers that we've attracted who've come to us via the app and then have started both shopping through the app and through the main website platform, so it's at the stage when it is material to our business. This is retail: a couple of per cent here or there is very material to us in terms of sales.

"But it's also a combination of the sales it can drive now, the customers it can attract but also there's a massive future value bound up in the ability to do this because what we know is that the platform's only going to get better, the phones are only going to get better, the speeds are going to get better, the screens are going to get better, the interface, and so a good deal of it is our ability to be at the forefront of something that's going to change the world."

How much marketing did you need to do to get the app noticed?
"We're lucky or different to lots of businesses in that we have a very loyal and very vociferous customer base... so we end up with a lot of very happy and, what you would call in marketing speak 'promoting', customers who are willing to talk about you.

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Image credit: Ocado

"So, actually in terms of marketing the app, effectively it was a case of telling our customers about it and that's actually an easy thing to do when you're an online company and you have a website and you have email addresses and all of those things. So we did a lot of that kind of internal publicity.

"Then the way the [Apple] App Store works you have this natural effect where, as you move up the charts, you move even further up the charts because people hear about you and you become more prominent and the reviews pay off.

How important is mobile to your business going forward?
"What's also interesting as regards food is that the computer may not be in the same room as the food, the toiletries - computers are very unlikely to be in the same room as your bathroom goods for instance - and there is something very interesting about... being able to look in the cupboard and say 'I need one of those' and click. Or maybe scan. Or maybe whatever that interface ends up being, it's very easy to see how something that fits in the palm of your hand rather than sits on a table can revolutionise that ordering experience.

The company: Women's fashion retailer Oasis

The app: Oasis Fashion - iPhone app (free)

Features include: Daily updates on new arrivals to Oasis' clothing collection; offline browsing of the collection; shake the device to generate random suggestions for key items from latest arrivals; browse campaign images and click through to view the items that created the look; access to weekly newsletter; store finder; add items to shopping basket that links through to the checkout page of Oasis.co.uk

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Image credit: Aurora Fashions

silicon.com spoke to Jean-Claude Mighty, ecommerce communications co-ordinator for Aurora Fashions, Oasis' parent company.

What was your business case for launching an app?
"We see ourselves as a multi-channel business and we've made great leaps and a lot of progress with online - specifically email as a marketing channel - and a lot of people in the industry have seen SMS or mobile devices as a growing area, however the functionality hasn't always facilitated that, and devices like the iPhone really help you to broadcast or send very visual messages.

"The idea of that is that we could send a message to someone in the high street who could immediately respond. With email the obvious action is to go to the website whereas with the app you could be broadcasting to someone who's in the high street and get their immediate engagement or send them directly to store - which email doesn't always do - and we thought it's very important that we use technology to drive people into store as well as online.

"[The iPhone is] also a great device for bringing in other people to the brand who probably may not have seen us as forward thinking or ahead of the game. It addressed the kind of needs for a fashion retailer to think forward not only in terms of the garments that we make but in the technology that we embrace.

How much research did you do before you launched the app?
"Obviously the majority of our consumers are female and the way [iPhone] technology has been conveyed has not been in an overly or overt techie way - so it's been embraced not just by the normal tech heads but everyone - people who shop in the high street.

[Prior to launching the app we] rendered [our ExactTarget marketing] emails so that they [could] be viewed on various modes by other devices - and then [gave] the customer the option to either click here to render on your iphone or various other devices. [The iPhone] one was the most successful click through so just on that level we knew that there was a need to create something more specific for that device.

How are you judging the success of the app?
"It's a mixture because...

...there is obviously the download of the app itself which is obviously a branding tool as well as a conversion tool.

"There's the click-throughs and the conversion, there's also the coverage that it's given the brand - so there's a huge value in that as well as just being able to drive more customers to product so it works in a number of levels - it's brand positioning, it's click-through, it's awareness, it's traffic and conversion.

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Image credit: Aurora Fashions

How much marketing did you need to do to get the app noticed?
"[The iPhone has] kind of gone beyond being a technology device, it's a very mainstream and well-known device, so it wasn't really a big jump and we didn't really need to get a specific technical PR working on it - it kind of fed into our traditional fashion PR's remit of pushing the brand as someone that's forward thinking.

How important is mobile to your business going forward?
"Incredibly... I think as well the key thing is for [mobile] not to become far more important but more seamless with how it integrates with our current technology. Because it is literally taking a view on the customer and saying if they're signed up and it's their work email Monday to Friday we'd send them an email but if it's a Saturday to Sunday we'd probably have more success sending them an SMS so it's making it more seamless by having it just another channel of communication so we can hit customers based on not just preference of content but preference of channel."

The company: British Airways

The app: BA Flights - iPhone app (free)

Features include: Up-to-the-minute arrivals and departures info on all BA flights; online timetables for particular dates; a link to a mobile version of BA.com where you can book flights, check-in online and more.

BA app

Image credit: BA

BA's iPhone app has now been around for quite some time, and new users are still downloading it, Chris Carmichael, manager of BA.com and mobile innovation tells silicon.com.

What was your business case for launching an app?
"There was a few things - we, just like everybody else, don't know what the answers are going to be for mobile. We do realise that our customers are on the move - we are a travel company and we're taking them places so in the middle end of 2008 we launched both the iPhone app and a mobile internet site and it was primarily to see how our customers would react to each, whether they would be successful, what type of functionality they would look at, and it was part of our learning in this new channel."

How much research did you do before you launched the app?
"The history of [our iPhone app] I think is quite well known - it was two developers in our IT organisation started messing about with the toolkit and came up with the application, they were doing that in their spare time to start with... They showed us what they were doing, we kind of took it under our wing a little bit, made sure they got access to designers and to legal and to the appropriate people to make sure the application went out, went live and represented BA properly.

"To be fair, when the App Store launched yes, you could put apps on other phones but nobody was. Eighteen months ago it was a few hundred people that were doing this type of thing, now everybody with an iPhone has got apps and everybody else is trying to catch up. But it was really the one game in town at the time."

How are you judging the success of the app?
"When we did it it was purely experimental so I didn't have any KPIs, I didn't have any major business justification for doing it - it was something we...

...could do very quickly, very cheaply and to measure the effectiveness of this new channel to see where our customers are going to be. But measuring success - it's still being used, it's still being downloaded and people like yourself are still asking questions about it.

"We launched the day that the iPhone App Store launched... We got quite a lot of attention in the first few weeks and it's actually been fairly steady, so 18 months on we're still getting a regular number of downloads."

BA app

Image credit: BA

How much marketing did you need to do to get the app noticed?
"It was mostly word of mouth. I mean, we have got some content about it on the website and we did a few pieces in our in-flight magazines. Apple themselves actually pushed it quite a lot in the UK so we were on the homepage on iTunes on launch day and we were picked up on a couple of other publications around the time but no, no heavy marketing at all."

How important is mobile to your business going forward?
"I think it's very, very important. By the simple nature of we are a transport company, our customers are not sitting at their desks and the more they travel the better.

"There's certainly a belief that [with] the mobile device - it's not just going to be mobile users who are going to be using it in the not too distant future. We're hearing stories of people who can't be bothered going through to switch on their laptop - just using the mobile because it's in their pocket already so you're seeing it as another device and not just mobile - so how do we get the services that people need on those devices is going to be the key over the next few years.

"[Having a mobile app is] like having a website was maybe 10 years ago, maybe even further back than that. There were some people that went and thought about what they were doing, what effect it would have for their customers, and their business and built something worth having and plenty more put their brochure online so I'm guessing we will see the brochure online in apps. It's not expensive to do simple applications... Is it important? Not necessarily but if it meets your customer requirements, or your business requirements it's a channel that's available to you."

The company: VoIP provider Skype

The apps: Skype for iPhone (free); Skype Lite on Android (free)

Features include: Full VoIP on iPhone app; circuit switched calls on Android app; IM.

skype

Image credit: Skype

silicon.com spoke to David Ponsford, iPhone product manager, Skype.

What was your business case for launching an app?
"There was a big pent-up demand that we've seen for a Skype app on iPhone. We have a big mobile strategy of which downloadable apps is one element of it. We decided to build a fully featured [iPhone] application that would be simple to use, be really familiar to iPhone users and iPod touch users and get it out there to the millions of people who have iPhones and iPod touches so they can take Skype mobile."

How much research did you do before you launched the app?
"I think the particular attraction was around the pent up demand that we saw for [the Skype iPhone app]... We had been contacted by lots of iPhone users who use Skype asking us when will Skype be available for iPhone?

"I think, anecdotally... iPhone was one of the biggest search words on skype.com and we could see from our customers getting in contact with us there was an awful lot of demand for an application and we've seen Apple's success with the platform."

How are you judging the success of the app?
"We have obviously internally a number of KPIs that we use to judge success. The one I can share with you which is out there is around downloads. Since we launched...

...we've had over six million downloads of the application and we're very, very pleased with the success of it.

"We enable Skype out-calling just as we do on the desktop and that's proving very very popular as well. The one I can share with you openly is the download figure but we obviously have a lot of other internal KPIs which we're very pleased with."

skype

Image credit: Skype

How much marketing did you need to do to get the app noticed?
"We have a team that's been built up to push Skype on mobile."

How important is mobile to your business going forward?
"We think that mobile is a very key element for Skype going forward.

"[The iPhone is] a very innovative platform and I think fits very well with the way Skype is - we want to innovate around mobile and I think put not just really useful features in but some cool things as well so I think you'll see some of that coming over time as well.

"Going forward we always look to be iterating our app and adding to it and I think that's really where our strength is on this."

The company: Shazam

The apps: Shazam aims to have apps on every mobile platform/device. For iPhone it has both a free app, and a paid-for premium app called Shazam Encore (£2.99)

iPhone app features include: Identify (tag) music you hear when out and about, with the option to buy and share tracks you've discovered via Shazam. For GPS-enabled devices the app records the location where a track was 'tagged', includes more info about tracks such as album reviews and biogs.

shazam

Image credit: Shazam

Andrew Fisher, CEO, Shazam, explained the attraction of the app model for the company.

How do you judge the success of your apps?
"We have lots of KPIs, one I can share with you is that the average user of Shazam uses the service eight times a month. So we measure repeat usage and what we have to do to encourage people to come back on a more frequent basis - and that would imply to us that we're creating more value to people and getting beyond the tag.

"So our strategy is to take people on a music journey which means a richer experience and there's different reasons why people use Shazam over time - not just finding out the name of a song or being able to buy it very quickly. And that's really important because in an advertising world either that leads to more page impressions and more inventory created or in a premium environment it means people are potentially getting more value out of what they're paying for and you're creating more stickiness to the service.

The company: Rightmove

The app: Rightmove App - for iPhone (free)

Features include: Using phone's GPS to locate properties for rent/sale close to user's current location, with results displayed in text or map view. Save property searches, browse colour images of properties. Tap to phone or email agents of properties that catch your eye.

rightmove

Image credit: Rightmove

Using the smartphone's GPS technology to pinpoint the location of a user is key to this application. Tom McGuigan, comms manager at Rightmove explains.

What was your business case for launching an app?
"It was really just an extension of [our business] - another sort of touch point for the company so that people could access us and extending the value that we offer to our customers who are estate agents who advertise their properties on site. So it's just an extended way for property hunters to come on and search for properties.

"Obviously we're keen on new technologies and always expanding our service offerings. We've worked on our mobile website and the iPhone app was really just a good extension of that.

How much research did you do before you launched the app?
"Obviously we identified the iPhone and its app usage as being a real increasing trend - a high number of users, tech-savvy users as well who would be able to look for properties and uitilise the features that we wanted to put in [the app].

"It was obvious iPhone apps have really...

...developed in popularity over the last year or so and iPhone usage as well is increasing all the time so that's why we selected the iPhone to use.

How are you judging the success of the app?
"We recently passed the 250,000 downloads mark which is a really really great benchmark for us in terms of how many people are downloading the app... We've [also] been really strong in terms of the leads we're delivering to customers on a daily basis, so that's obviously been the whole point behind it really - just having this new way of delivering leads to our estate agents.

rightmove

Image credit: Rightmove

"The other good thing is it's kind of created a new means of property hunting - the normal usage of Rightmove is to sit at home on your computer and have a scan through for your properties but... [the app] uses GPS so it can track a user's exact location and then map the properties in the immediate area around them so in a sense it's creating a different means of using Rightmove where you are placed in the centre of your own property hunting need and then everything that's available in the immediate area is mapped around you."

How important is mobile to your business going forward?
"We would like to move with mobile technology and keep on offering the best service for our customers.

"There's a few different ideas that we've bounced around... There's things like augmented reality that perhaps we could introduce. Or other means of highlighting the pictures."

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