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It seems that today, there really is an app for just about everything, whether you’re tracking calories and making meal plans or managing finances, booking vacations and hailing a taxi. But are businesses really cutting through the clutter and creating apps that are really useful to their customers?

LoyaltyOne’s 2013 Mobile App Transaction Study shows that today’s apps aren’t as “sticky” as businesses and app developers may hope. According to the findings, while the average Canadian smartphone user has downloaded 25 apps, on average, only five of them are used daily. That means an app has a mere 18% chance of landing—and remaining—on a customer’s main screen. Ouch.

But, there is hope yet. The consumers surveyed also indicated that what they want most from apps—especially branded apps—are entertainment (with 36% of respondents citing this), ways to stretch spending power (34%) and tools to make life easier (35%). Deliver an app that includes those benefits and you make it attractive for existing and potential customers to keep you at their fingertips.

Read: Apps: Your Secret Weapon For Client Retention

For small businesses, a smartly designed mobile app that factors in relevant offers (rather than one that was created simply for the sake of joining the crowd) can mean increased loyalty and engagement from customers—which usually translates into long-term earnings. With that in mind, business owners who are thinking of creating a mobile app should keep in mind the following three tips to ensure they’re creating smart, “sticky” apps customers will come to rely on:

1. Create engaging check-ins

Because check-in promotions don’t increase transactions over the long term, businesses may get better results by rewarding check-in activity along with a desired behavior—think of it as “Check-In Plus.” For example, an app could award bonus points to customers who check-in and make a purchase, share information through their social channels or redeem a coupon. A strong Check-In Plus strategy can help maintain long-term engagement while also establishing more habitual desired behaviors that drive closer engagement with the program.

2. Timing is everything

Businesses need to have a strong understanding of what their customers are doing at any given time of the day, and then tailor app messages and calls-to-action around customers’ individual preferences. Encourage the call-to-action or share relevant information when customers are most likely to be receptive and on their mobile devices. For example, most people use their mobile devices to check the weather and read news in the early morning, so that would be an opportune time for a coffee shop to deliver a coupon or breakfast deal along with information about local traffic or weather.

3. Don’t forget the fun factor!

The best apps inform more than sell, and provide helpful tools rather than just promotional information. Our study reveals a sweet spot of app overlap, where customers identify two desired features they want to see in both general and branded apps: convenience and utility. If your app solves a customer’s lifestyle needs, and also throws in a bit of entertainment value, it’s far more likely to end up on the main screen of someone’s phone than in the app graveyard.

Podcast: How To Win The App Game

Entrepreneurs need to think of an app as part of the overall customer experience; it’s not just a standalone channel in which to push content out, but rather a way in which to engage consumers in a dialogue.

Consumers may initially be attracted to the flashy new app. But smart businesses that offer apps with relevant information, promotions and tools that solve their customer’s needs will pass the ultimate test of “stickiness”, resulting in stronger engagement and long-term app and business loyalty.

Jeffrey Berry is Senior Director of Research and Development at LoyaltyOne.

What do you think makes an app “sticky”? Would you consider creating one for your business (if you haven’t already)? Share your thoughts and ideas by commenting below.

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