The anatomy of a retail app

The anatomy of a retail app

China is leading the way when it comes to mobile retail, according to Mintel’s latest report, which found that a whopping 94 percent of those surveyed own a smartphone and regularly use it to make purchases, redeem coupons, and send gifts.

But despite the overall optimistic outlook for the growth of mobile retail in Asia, Mintel has some words of caution for retailers themselves, claiming they lack full commitment to new and innovative applications of online technology.

The numbers speak for themselves – mobile-commerce spending in China is set to pass $50 billion this year, yet some retailers are finding it hard to know where to start when it comes to developing an effective, transactional mobile presence.

Taking the Right “App-Roach” 

Aside from establishing a presence on one of China’s hugely popular social apps such as WeChat or Weibo, one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways for retailers to make a mark and engage their mobile customers is to develop a branded app that allows them to browse-and-buy where and when they choose to.

There are a number of specific issues to consider when it comes to developing apps for the Chinese/Asian market:


  • Fonts: While there are many beautiful Chinese fonts, they tend to be very heavy, which restricts how they can be used, and few of them are free of charge. This means that developers using Chinese free fonts may find they are limited in terms of design. However, it is possible for users to download specific fonts with the app – something retailers should consider when they are commissioning design and development.


  • Apps such as WeChat have popularized physical chat functions – retail apps that incorporate audio are likely to go down well with audiences in Asia.
  • Asia is a very diverse market when it comes to behaviors, devices, and communication preferences. Retailers wishing to launch an app should test them first in one or two key markets before full roll-out, which will help avoid complex version, device, and content management issues.
  • Commerce apps with hidden features such as short/simple games are generally well received in Asian markets. While they may not be attractive to Western consumers, it’s worth thinking about building a game-based element into retail apps aimed specifically at this territory.


  • Digital wallet technology is becoming increasingly popular in Asia – for example, in Hong Kong, consumers can use their Octopus card to travel, pay bills, make purchases, and pay at some restaurants. For brand apps, integrating Octopus functionality into their checkout will undoubtedly increase their usefulness, convenience, and, as a result, popularity. In China, digital wallets are still in the early stages of development, with Alibaba and Tencent currently dominating the market. However, their use is growing fast and retailers with the foresight to include digital wallets in their app development will be in a position to steal a march on their competitors.

While there are clearly a number of points to consider that are unique to the market in Asia, key aspects of app development and promotion are universal, essential, and valid across the globe.

This infographic examines the anatomy of a retail app and gives insight into what retailers need to do to ensure it is successful:

Elisa Harca is the regional director of Red Ant Asia.

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