In 2015, we sought to better understand the increasing importance of apps in customers’ worlds. Apps had become the primary way the we consume information - at home, on-the-go, and everywhere. Mobile had to be part of your overall business strategy, as there was no avoiding the need to meet user expectations.
In 2016, we want to think beyond that and consider how apps are changing the face of consumer communication. Apps offer the ability to reach and engage users no matter where they are, and on their terms. Because of this, they reflect the new way that customers demand to interact. Not only that, but they offer almost unprecedented access to behavior and attribute data about your customers that you can use across your channels to create more relevant and valuable experiences.
The data in this report reflects mobile user trends, the fluctuations in app retention, and the promising response to app marketing, which all showcase new insights into app consumers and how they seek to interact with brands. We dive into the details of how users utilize apps, what the best marketing tactics are, and what the future holds for mobile.
People are spending more time in apps. Period.
That’s great news! It means apps as a medium, an experience and a way of creating relationships have been validated. In 2015, the average time in app increased by 11%, and the number of app launches increased from 11.5 to 13.3. This means that, generally, people are interacting with apps more frequently and spending more time in apps.
In fact, the amount of time people spent in apps on a monthly basis shot up.
We also saw the average session length increase slightly from 5.7 minutes in 2014 to 6.02 minutes in 2015, meaning actual sessions within a given app are getting longer. This is a good sign considering the shrinking attention spans of users and the rise of "snacking" behavior. One theory is that the increased use of marketing tactics like push messages are leading to longer session lengths and higher engagement in-app (more on that, later!).
In 2015, iPhones saw 24% more time in app than iPads, at an average of 50.3 minutes vs. 40.4 minutes. Users are more likely, then, to spend more time accessing an app on their phone than on their tablet. But, the story changes when it comes to session length.
Because of the nature of tablets (bigger screens, more comfortable and visually appealing for long-form content, browsing, and digesting), iPad apps typically have greater session lengths than apps on iPhones. Specifically, iPad apps have a 43% higher average session length than iPhone apps, but iPhone apps have 78% more app launches than iPad Apps.
Using this data, we can see that the app user behavior on a smartphone and that on a tablet are inherently different, and so the experiences need to be different. iPhone app experiences should be focused on the easy and quick presentation of information (the way a user wants to access it) and then how to improve session length by increasing engagement.
iPad apps, alternatively, want to ensure that the experience lends itself well to additional browsing or content consumption - namely, what’s the best UX option for users who are spending more time in the app and are looking for more content?
Most apps follow a similar usage pattern – rising in the early morning hours as people start their commute, then leveling off throughout the day. After work, app usage picks up again until it reaches its daily peak at 8pm, at which point it starts to decline as people head to bed, dropping off significantly after 10pm. Primetime remains the best time to engage with your users. But not all apps follow this pattern.
Three categories that experience peak usage in the morning are News, Travel, and Weather apps. Most people check the weather right when they first wake up, followed by the day’s headlines and traffic information. To no one’s surprise, Travel apps experience peak usage in the morning and evening commutes, as people are trying to find efficient ways to get to and from work or school. For apps that experience heavy early morning usage, a well-timed in-app message in the morning could result in significant engagement with the user.
Other apps show constant usage through the day. Business apps (such as Salesforce) and Finance apps show heavy usage throughout the day. Music apps are also used constantly, as people typically listen to music throughout their workday. These apps are less dependent on commuter patterns and so are more typically used during work hours either as tools or for background listening. Of note, Business and Finance apps also experience heavy usage throughout the evening, indicating that people are engaging with these apps to stay connected to their work life outside the typical 9-5 hour workday.
Of all the categories examined, entertainment and social networking had above average usage in the late night hours. Entertainment apps in particular show strong usage throughout the night into the early morning hours. Rather than dipping to around 20 percent between 2am-5am, entertainment apps kept strong around 50 percent usage during these hours.
While this information may seem to be common sense, there are practical applications for product managers and marketers. Most people fall into a similar routine during the day, which means you can predict when they will be engaging with their apps. Knowing what the typical peak time of day is for your industry means you can optimize your ad campaigns for times of peak usage or provide timely content updates.
Along with session length and app launches, time of day is another great insight towards how users are engaging with your app. Understanding typical usage patterns will help drive efficient marketing campaigns, and ultimately create a more pleasant experience for your user.
This year, we were surprised to see a decline in user retention (here defined by the percentage of users who return to an app eleven or more times), dropping from 39% in 2014 to 34% in 2015. On the other end of the spectrum, we also saw a notable increase in user abandonment (here defined as the percentage of users who abandon an app after one session), jumping from 20% in 2014 to 25% in 2015. We dug in further to understand if the data was varying across a number of vectors, including operating systems or geographic locations, and were able to see a marked difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world, particularly in China.
As we look at results for the U.S., engagement actually improved year over year (YoY). The number of users who returned to an app eleven or more times this year increased by almost three percentage points to 42%. At the same time, user abandonment rates have held steady at 19%. This can likely be attributed to continued improvements around app development, as well as better strategies to engage users with tools like push messaging and active efforts to re-engage lost users through email and remarketing.
Our data shows that the behaviors of users in China diverge greatly across the same apps. Overall, retention of users based in China has historically been worse than that of U.S.-based users. But, over the past year, the data took a dramatic turn for the worse. User retention dropped from 27% to 18%; additionally, 37% of all users in China only used an app once.
So what happened in the past year that caused such a dramatic difference in China? There are several likely factors. First is that the country’s economic conditions are driving a rapid adoption of smartphones and the improvement of 4G networks. According to a report from App Annie summarizing the first quarter of 2015, app downloads in the China surpassed that of the U.S. for the first time ever. This could have let to a change in behavior of trying and testing many new apps and quickly deciding which ones are worthwhile.
Secondly, the massive growth and proliferation of the free messaging app, WeChat, could be impacting retention. With many brands choosing to use WeChat instead of developing their own native app, and WeChat also extending into commerce services, the need for other apps is decreasing quickly.
Thirdly, we’ve found that Chinese users spend less time in the same apps as U.S. users - only 4.1 minutes. Their expectations of what makes an app useful are dramatically different and may lead to more abandonment early on. Lastly, we’ve found that abandonment rates in China are generally higher for older devices where storage becomes an issue, which impacts this overall trend.
Overall, the news is good for marketers: the hard work and time spent optimizing their apps and personalizing their marketing through tools like email and app messaging is making an impact. Further focus on key tactics like the on-boarding experience, optimizing for global audiences and encouraging push notification opt-in should continue to move the needle forward to a place where over half of all downloads become active users. When it comes to winning in China, there needs to be a significant investment made on optimizing the app experience for your audience and using app messaging techniques to re-engage lost users.
App abandonment rates measure the percentage of apps only used once - in this case, 38% of Travel apps are only used once, compared to just 9% of Weather apps. Most apps fall somewhere in the 20-30% range, and this isn’t surprising; for example, Music apps are frequently used again and again to listen to saved music like playlists or to access the radio. When you’re downloading a Music app, you have this use case in mind, and know that you will be using it multiple times. However, a user might download a Travel app to plan for an upcoming trip or check flight discounts, but it’s not regularly repeatable behavior in the way listening habits are.
What this means, realistically, is that the first 30 days after a new user downloads your app is the most crucial time frame for influencing long-term engagement and retention. While you want to ensure that users continue to return to your app even years down the road, the key to establishing a relationship is at the onset of their initial experience.
Our recent research suggests a strong negative correlation between the number of app sessions and user churn. In other words, the more sessions app users complete in the first 30 days after downloading an app, the less likely they are to become inactive.
In the chart above, the X axis is the number of sessions per user in the first 30 days after a user downloads an app. The Y axis is the percent of users who will churn (and return) to your app in the same timeframe. The data shows that 75% of users who log just one app session in the 30 days after the app download will churn. It also shows that only 14% of users who complete 11 or more sessions in the first 30 days will churn.
Last year we found that users with the longest first app session were the quickest to return to the app. This year, we can supplement this data with the knowledge that people who complete more sessions earlier in their lifecycle as a user are more likely to return to the app in the long-term. This data cements the fact that early, regular usage is the key to retention. Essentially, if the value isn’t clear from the get go - namely the first app session - users are unlikely to return to the app, and are at much higher risk of churning within the first month of use.
We know that there isn’t an unlimited amount of space on a device to amass hundreds of apps, which means users experiment and pick and choose based on which apps serve a purpose, provide the best entertainment, or are the most valuable. But there are techniques at your disposal that help to re-engage and retain users, including optimizing your app feature roadmap based on the features that have the greatest impact on churn, and utilizing app messaging to give well-timed prompts. We look at some data surrounding these marketing tactics and their effectiveness in the next section!
A critical piece of the app marketing puzzle is securing the push opt-in. Most apps attempt to do this from the get-go with the goal of getting as many users as possible to opt-in. The general consensus is that opt-in rates tend to be low, but that’s actually not the case - in the average app, almost 50% of users opt-in to push.
Average overall push opt-in rates at 49.8%. Android has higher opt-in rates at 57.8%, while iOS has opt-in rates of 42%. However, in 2014 the push opt-in rate was 52%, meaning opt-ins have dipped in 2015 (Android’s opt-in rates were 59% and iOS was at 46%).
We recently conducted a consumer survey further supporting this point as 52% of respondents said they find push messages to be an annoying distraction. This decrease may scare some, but it is not a reason to panic. Just like marketers have learned to use push more wisely, apps must find smarter ways to convince users to opt in to receive push messages. Localytics has outlined before how important it is to build trust with users before blasting them with push messages. One way to establish trust with a user, is to give them time to explore the app before asking them to enable push messages, which we cover in the following section.
Here’s the thing: there’s very little value in asking a user to opt-in to push the first time they open the app, before he’s even interacted with it, as most apps do. Why would a user opt-in when he hasn’t even experience it, or understood the value?
It doesn’t take too long to establish trust with users, but try to not ask for permission to enable push messages as soon as the app is downloaded. Users know little about the app at this time and will not have a good idea as to what the push messages will be telling them. Give them time to engage with the app and see all that it has to offer, specifically what it has to offer them. If users are coming back to the app on their own, that is a great sign you have sparked their interest and now you can ask them to enable push messages to bring them a more personalized experience thus keeping their interest.
Think of this as a real life example, you wouldn’t ask someone you just met to borrow $5, would you? You would get to know them, establish a relationship with them and then get to a point where you feel comfortable asking such a question. Apps should strive to treat their users like actual people and create more than a monotoned experience.
It’s time to move past the stigma that push notifications are a nuisance to users, or the modern mobile equivalent of spam. But year over year, push enabled users continue to have higher app engagement rates that users who don’t opt-in to receive these messages. The numbers are truly telling of just how effective push messages are at doing this.
Users who have enabled push launch an app an average of 14.7 times per month, whereas users who have not enabled push messages will only launch an app 5.4 times per month. In other words, users that have push messages enabled average 3x more app launches than those who have not enabled push messages.
This represents a 171% increase in app engagement, which has more than doubled since 2014 where the increase in engagement was 88%.
And push didn’t prove to be valuable only for Retail or eCommerce apps - Technology, Travel, Games and Media & Entertainment apps all saw 143%-205% higher engagement amongst push enabled users. What we’re seeing from these numbers is that users are actually looking for reasons to further interact with your app, as long as those interactions provide content, offers or information that match their interests and needs. Because push notifications are used to bring that relevant content to the forefront, negating the need for users to go searching for it, the resulting impact on engagement is substantial.
In 2014, we found that the retention rate of users who enable push in-app is much higher than users who have push disabled - this continued to hold true in 2015. We’ve seen that push messaging offers a transformative way to interact with users in real-time and helps to enhance the overall value of an app. Companies around the world are starting to leverage push messaging more effectively, helping to drive notable increases in retention.
On average, 65% of users return to an app in the 30 days after the initial download, if they have push enabled. On the other hand, for users do not have push enabled only 19% of them will return the following month. By the third month, one third of users who have push enabled are still using the app, compared to only 11% of users who do not receive push messages.
Let’s look at this even further, from a demographics breakdown. More than 50% of all users in North America who opt in to receive push messages return to an app regularly, with over half of all users returning to apps eleven or more times.
In China, app abandonment drops from down to only 20% of users who will return to an app once, and retention of users jumps up to 35%. It’s clear that push enablement in China is just as important to retention as it is in the U.S., however the overall retention rates at 11+ app opens are lower - 35% with push enabled in China vs. 56% in the U.S. This further showcases the struggles with app user retention apps are facing in China, and the difference in user behaviors across various countries and cultures.
What does this all mean? Primarily that using push as a tactic presents you with additional ways to reach out to and re-engage users for better long-term retention. It also means that users who agree to receive push notifications from your app are genuinely interested in relevant content and updates, and are so are far more likely to then interact with your app further when presented with that interesting content.
One metric app marketers use to measure the success of their push messages is by looking at the average click through rate. For the year 2015, the average click through rate for push messages has been 10.2%, which represents a two percent increase from 2014.
Increasing click through rates supports the idea that push messages are becoming more relevant to users. But with every relevant push, the bar is raised for all push notifications to meet users’ needs, so apps must continuously learn about their audiences in order to better serve them with push messages. That is what sets apart the apps just phoning it in from the apps who are using data to create valuable experiences and serve up the content users are searching for.
However, CTR is only a helpful metric is assessing the initial success of a push message - marketers must use supporting data around engagement and retention, as reviewed above, to decide which messages are having the greatest impact on app ROI and long-term success. Click through rates are a step in the right direction, but as app publishers send more push messages, capturing the attention of users will become increasingly difficult. Marketers will need to focus more on what is working over time by continuing to test different messages, shifting the focus from vanity metrics to those that signify actual ROI and always use audience insights as the root of the message.
In-app messages are the perfect tool to guide users to the most valuable parts of an app, because they either act as directional guidance to get to the next step or serve as an opportunity to offer incentives delivered at appropriate points in the app. Once a user sees the value of an app, they are more likely to return frequently and often. Our latest data supports this idea.
Overall, apps that send in-app messages experience 27% more launches than apps that don’t send them, seeing an average of 13 launches per month.
In-app messages can function to create a more seamless experience and pinpoint features users might be looking for but have a hard time finding organically. They also provide the ability to serve up contextually relevant information during the user’s app experience that prolong the session length and provide additional reasons to return to the app again and again. These benefits could explain why apps that use in-app messaging see more app opens, on average, and higher retention rates.
In addition to a higher number of app launches, apps that send in-app messages have significantly more loyal users. These loyal users return to the app 3.5X more often in their third month of using the app.
This means that these app owners are retaining nearly 50% of their users three months after their initial engagement, compared to their counterparts who retain only 13% of users. With retention numbers being what they are, app marketers need every possible tool at their disposal to create more valuable experiences and re-engage users with great content, offers and information relevant to their brand relationship.
The key here is to change how marketers view in-app messaging; it’s not mobile advertising, and they don’t have to be spammy pop-ups. Just as email is done well and done poorly, in-app messaging offers a world of possibility - when done right. And the value is clear when it comes to user usage and retention.
Delivering relevant in-app messages is the key to negating their perception as spam. Our research shows that the average CTR of an in-app message is 28%. But, on average, when the in-app message is triggered off of an event (i.e. an action taken inside the app), the click-through rate is 2x higher than an in-app message presented at the start of the app’s session. The same holds true for conversion rates, as in-app messages presented based on an event have 4x higher conversion rates, on average, than those shown at the start of a session.
The average CTR on an in-app message across all verticals is 28% - a better CTR than email marketing, banner ads, push messages and most other marketing tactics. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to in-app. Certain app categories see an even higher lift in CTRs when using in-app messages that are triggered off of an event in app. This means in-app messages that are automated to appear based on a completed action or behavior during the user’s app experience.
Photography apps see the most significant uptick, with click-through rates increasing by 19% to an astounding 47% CTR on in-app messages triggered by an event. While photography apps may seem like a straightforward use case that do not require reminders or incentives, there are often highly valuable features worth pointing out to users that can add to the experience, enhancing the usefulness of the app.
Sports apps land in second place when it comes to click-through rate lifts, experiencing an impressive 19% lift when in-app messages are triggered by an event. Many sports apps are also content-centric apps, delivering a wide variety of content personalized to their fans, such as scores and team news. A well-timed in-app message calling out a new piece of relevant content is a great opportunity to engage users in a new way, keeping them informed of the latest and greatest information.
Data is great. But data is only the starting point. Now that you're equipped with the industry insights you need, the next step is to put this data to work for you. To help kick-start this process for a winning 2016, we've called out the big mobile trends we see and takeaways to put into action.
Fifty-eight percent of users churn within the first 30 days.
Seventy-one percent of users within the first 60 days.
Seventy-five percent of users within the first 90 days.
The risk of app churn is real, and historically, marketers haven’t had the tools or capacity to identify churn risks within data, make the correct optimizations or enable automated marketing that aims to curb churn. In 2016, however, this is all possible.
The first step is to uncover and define what factors are indicators of churn risk in your app. Without creating a definition of churn as it relates to your app, you cannot start to measure or model it for predicting which users are at risk. With the right analytics tracking software in place, you should have access to the insights needed to create this definition.
How users behave in your app and the various attributes they bring to the table (such as location, language, purchase history, etc.) both play a role in defining and uncovering reasons for churn. Most likely, you will reach a point in this process in which you have multiple definitions of churn based on these different factors in order to get a broad sense of the many possible risks (Tip: you can use this blog post to identify baseline churn definitions and identify the corresponding factors in your app).
Once you’ve uncovered this, you can optimize your roadmap for better features, functionality, and to eliminate the experiential elements that lead to churn, and you can run targeted campaigns, aimed at high-risk users, to re-engage them with your platform and prevent churn.
In both 2014 and 2015, we found that users who engage with the app early and often are at a much lower risk of churning, to the tune of only 14% of users who complete 11 or more sessions in the first 30 days will churn.
Digging into the numbers even further, we’ve identify a minimal threshold - or the minimum number of sessions a user must complete - to suggest they have seen value in your app and thus be considered an active user. We call this correlation between app usage within a certain time frame and the likelihood of app success the 3x3 rule.
If the average percent of users who churn is 58%, then we can deduce most people only use an app 1-2 times in the first 30 days. That means, on average, the critical hurdle is three app sessions a month.
But knowing you need users to log 3 sessions may still be not enough. Measuring churn within a 30-day window is the most common benchmark for user churn and retention, but our research found a more critical window to concentrate on when trying to influence retention: the first three days after an app’s download.
Why? Because only 29% of your users will churn if you can encourage them to have three sessions in the first three days after they’ve downloaded your app. Thus, the 3x3 rule.
This means that there needs to be a concerted focus on the first, second and third app opens for each new user. By creating an experience of value from the first app open, you’re creating early traction that will turn into retention and steer users away from churning. There are many ways to accomplish this, and new ones being created by app publishers every day.
The golden rule of engagement is this: remember that your app users are people, not just a compilation of information. While the 3x3 rule is an intelligent and data-driven way to ensure that the first few app experiences are worthwhile, it’s key to think of retention as an ongoing initiative.
Retention trends today show that repeat visits are difficult to maintain. Think back to the Forrester data: if most users spend the majority of their time in only a handful of apps, getting your app into the lineup is the challenge at hand.
But, when we look at some of the data surrounding retention in push-enabled users at 11+ sessions or in apps that leverage in-app messaging, the importance of ongoing programs becomes clear. Organic (stand-alone) retention might not be enough to keep your app progressing, but the data shows that using tactics like push notifications, in-app messaging, email and remarketing make a huge difference when used.
More importantly, app retention is going to be impacted by your cross-channel strategy. Mobile moments need to be complemented by an omni-channel presence, so that your relationship with customers is built on ease, emotion and enjoyment. You can use data collected about your customers in-app to better personalize their brand experiences outside of the app - without overstepping the line. The goal is to be present, accessible and persuasive without being pushy. This is how successful apps and brands today are building loyalty.
In-app messages are not mobile ads. When used well, they are not spammy, invasive, or easily dismissed. And, most importantly, they should represent a valuable opportunity for the user to access something, instead of for more ad revenue for your partners. As we saw in this report, relevant or targeted in-app messages have a spectacularly high CTR, and can play a big role in keeping users engaged in your app.
Because in-app messages appear during the user’s experience while they are interacting with your app, they represent the perfect opportunity to surface valuable information and options without building new features. Plus, because of the ability to trigger an in-app message on an event, they offer the chance to present the user with highly-relevant offers and content that save them money, offer rewards, and enhance that experience.
There’s also this additional benefit: many apps today don’t yet use in-app messaging, despite the success rates. It’s not an overused tactic that needs to be revamped. In fact, if app marketers approach this technique now with care and attention, we can prevent it from becoming a poorly-used tactic.
In 2015, we took a close look at the differences between app users in the US and China, and found startling differences - and that’s just between two countries, and doesn’t take into account a great number of global app users. This data sheds insight into the retention difficulties amongst diverse audiences, but more importantly, it shows that we can no longer create one app experience for all users. Not having localized apps for each of your demographics will increase churn risk, as users are hoping to have an app customized to them, and end up instead with a foreign-feeling experience.
In one example we found that a major retailer was seeing high churn rates amongst Chinese users - they looked into it and discovered it was because these users weren’t accustomed to an US app experience, and weren’t finding it valuable. So, that retailer was able to make the case that developing an app version for China was the next biggest priority for their mobile business.
We might not have yet cracked the key to truly personalized app experiences - ones that customize on-the-fly for each individual user (although that’s certainly coming) - but what we have realized with this new 2015 data is that customization is still key to improving retention. Users are expecting ease-of-use and elements specific to their country, currency, and customs, and when faced with a non-localized experience will feel frustrated and deterred. This next year is the time to think globally, and to simply make it easier for customers who want to interact with you to use your app.