Average Global App Retention Rates Decreased 5%


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.


User Retention in the U.S. Improved to 42%


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.

User Retention in China Dropped by 11%

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.

User retention dropped from 27% to 18%; additionally, 37% of all users in China only used an app once.

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.