Despite Brexit concerns, UK retail sales increased for the third month in a row with online sales accounting for the majority of this growth. We asked, do mobile apps have a part to play in this? And, is the power of mobile changing the face of UK fashion?
The 'Shopping' category on iOS and Google Play features several different app variations; from voucher systems to mobile loyalty cards, and individual stores to buy & sell sites, there are plenty of ways that the retail sector are harnessing the power of mobile.
It is no secret that the high street has been struggling for some time and retailers have been forced online. 2018 was the UK's worst year on record for store sales, and experts predict that 2019 could see this trend continue. So is the fashion sector suffering?
On the contrary, the future looks bright - especially for app developers! Shoppers might be spending less in stores, but they're spending a lot more online. So far in 2019 total retail sales have have improved month-on-month, with three-quarters of the growth coming from internet sales.
The vast majority of high street fashion stores are now well established in the online shopping world, with exclusively e-stores like ASOS and PrettyLitteThing competing alongside them in this market. However, with the demand for convenience growing ever greater, should we expect to see apps play a crucial role in determining the future of retail?
These two tables display the top 10 fashion apps within the 'Shopping' category for iOS and Google Play in terms of downloads in Q1 2019. (We have also ranked them by number of Daily Active Users in the far-right hand column).
Looking at these numbers one may assume that shopping apps receive very similar downloads on both stores. However, fashion apps are noticeably less popular in the shopping category on Google Play compared to iOS.
The top 10 on iOS all rank within the top 21 on the Apple App Store; this is in contrast to the Google Play statistics where only 4 fashion apps make the same cut. Nike only comes in at 36th on Google Play compared to 14th on Apple. Could this say something about the general demographic of Android users?
Over the two stores Joom could be considered most successful due to its top ranking for daily active users. Headquartered in Russia, the Joom app originated alongside the website as an e-store for buying goods from China at low prices, with a focus on clothing. Perhaps at a time when uncertainty has led to tighter purses, these low prices are particularly attractive to the British public - ditching mainstream brands for bargains.
High street retail stores do not dominate the fashion app market, and have to compete heavily with buy & sell apps like Depop and StockX. This phenomenon was popularised by eBay, but has become much more widely used in fashion since the rise of Depop, designed specifically for clothes.
Again, its immense popularity seems to have been driven by this underlying demand for low prices and deals. Rather than dropping brands from their wardrobes altogether, people can settle for second-hand goods to accommodate tighter budgets (often alongside selling their older garments to subsidise purchases).
However, perhaps more important to app success in this market is 'scrollability' - something that is key for generating high levels of DAUs. As the stock of marketplaces like Joom is constantly changing, users tend to regularly check the app without necessarily looking to purchase anything in particular. The potential to find unexpected items keeps users engaged, which encourages consistent use of the app and impulse buying.
Fashion apps in general have noticed the power of scrollability and are developing new features to stimulate it. In particular, apps often include social networking features to drive more use through interactions. Depop is one high profile example that has a built-in messaging service, but many other apps are also adopting this feature. By enabling customers to communicate with likeminded others sharing their interest in fashion, they inspire community, which instigates return users.
High street retail stores must innovate to compete with apps of this kind. Nike encourage downloads of their app by offering exclusive deals and product previews to users and have seen some success with it in terms of download rates, but still struggle to retain active users. The lack of high street retailers in the top 10 lists is revealing of the ineffectiveness of simply offering a mobile app as an afterthought for added convenience. In such a competitive marketplace, more must be done.
If stores are seeing general sales improve then this is may not currently be a deep concern. However, with the aforementioned competitors surely already taking a slice of their customer base and mobile relentlessly growing in importance, they would be wise to place a greater emphasis on the success of their apps.
Looking forward, developers in this market should be checking their shoulders for new types of apps looking to further change the way we consume fashion.
Following the lead of the film, music, food and now gaming industries, we are now witnessing the emergence of subscription services for clothes. Whilst some operate by sending you clothes regularly for you to keep, others are now also offering rental services for users looking to save on big names and constantly refresh their wardrobe.
Not only does this meet demand for convenience (orders are delivered to your door), but also lowers waste, speaking to people's love of eco-friendly brands. The main barrier to adoption is the anxieties the public hold about the hygiene of sharing clothes with strangers, however, as these services roll out globally with publicity campaigns emphasising the lengths companies go to to ensure cleanliness, this could be a powerful new trend in retail consumption.