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Think there should be app for that? If you’re a marketer, you should think twice.

The mobile app boom is finally over, according to a study from research firm Nomura, as app download growth has screeched to a halt. The report found that the top 15 app publishers in the U.S. saw downloads drop an average of 20 percent between May 2015 and May 2016. Notable exceptions like Snapchat, Uber and HBO NOW are bucking the trend, but many apps saw significantly fewer downloads year-over-year.

Photo credit: Recode

An uphill battle in the attention economy

It’s already a challenge to get a user to download your app, especially if you are an independent developer or publisher. And while apps represent 52 percent  of time spent with digital media in the U.S., about two thirds of smartphone users download zero apps a month.

That's right. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Even if you get over the hump of getting a consumer to download your app, it’s likely to languish, as the typical customer only uses a few apps on a daily basis. Research released last year suggests the average app loses 77 percent of its users in the three days after they install it. After a month, 90 percent of users eventually stop using the app, and by the 90-day mark, only five percent of users continue using a given app.

Could apps hinder rather than help?

The end of the app boom has potential implications for companies that rely on mobile research for customer intelligence. According to the latest GRIT report, a leading study on market research, mobile surveys are now the most popular method of gathering customer feedback.

But recent research from Maru/Matchbox suggests that apps may in fact be a turn off for survey respondents. The research firm asked a group of investors if they were interested in joining an insight community that was focused on investing. Although one in five said yes, when asked if they would be willing to download an app to participate in surveys, three quarters said no, leaving only five percent willing to join the community.

To compound the lack of interest, Maru/Matchbox said asking people to keep the app “front and center” on their smartphone brought participation down to three percent, which is only one seventh of the people who initially said they would join the insight community. Furthermore, that small group willing to download the app did not reflect a broad spectrum of people initially desired to be in the community.

Stay mobile but consider dropping the app

While the Maru/Matchbox’s research may sink your idea of creating an app to engage customers and gather customer intelligence, mobile is still the way to go. After all, we live in a mobile-first world.

“The reality is, most survey research applications are mobile-friendly,” writes Demitry Estrin, managing director of financial services and health care at Maru/Matchbox. “They can be used by people anytime, anywhere. You can send people on shopping expeditions or catch them anywhere in their customer journey. In this case, there is nothing that an app can offer that is different from what any mobile-friendly community offers.”

In other words, companies don’t necessarily need an app to succeed in mobile research.

In the end, because mobile apps cost time and money to launch and maintain, companies should carefully consider whether they need one to begin with. Given the low usage of apps in general, marketers and researchers should determine if there is sufficient return-on-investment or if apps will inadvertently build a wall between them and their customers.

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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