To App or Not to App – A Critical Question for Mobile Research

Smartphones and tablets are so ubiquitous that we no longer question whether research needs to be mobile-friendly. It has to be, or you simply won’t have a representative sample.

Millennials and Hispanics – two harder to reach parts of the population – over-index on mobile use. In fact, 22% of Hispanics have access to the internet only through their smartphones – something that is also true for one in eight Americans overall.

So if mobile is a must, the question becomes what’s the best way to reach someone on their mobile-through an app or through a web browser? Let’s dig deeper into app usage.

People spend 86% of their time with apps

We know that most people spend the majority of their time on their mobile device using an app. It is estimated that 86% of the non-voice time people spend on their mobile devices is with apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as Facetime and Skype and literally millions of other apps. For tablets 77% of all non-voice time is with apps. So that sounds like a research app would be a natural fit.

An app makes people decide not to join the community

We know that research can make a valuable contribution to decision making, so we tested whether people want a research app. We asked a sample of investors if they were interested in joining an insight community that was focused on investing. One in five (21%) said yes.

We asked people if they would be willing to download an app and use it to do surveys for a community, which is when three quarters of them bailed and said “no”. As a result, we were left with just 5% of people now willing to join the community.

When we further asked if they were willing to keep their app in a place on their phone that was “front and center” – and therefore something they would pay attention to – interest further evaporated down to a paltry 3%. That is just one seventh of the original number of people who said they would join the community.

Those who will use an app are unrepresentative      

Those who agreed to join, download and use the app were very different from the total population of people we wanted to join our community. They were more likely to be younger, male, have kids at home and be employed full time. This is a very serious problem when we want our community to reflect our target population.

People abandon most apps within days

Even if we accepted the tiny non-representative percentage of people who were willing to join our app based community, we know that three quarters of them will use the app for a couple of days and then never use it again. By the end of three months we know that, on average, 95% of people are not using the app they downloaded.

Mobile-friendly surveys offer the same benefits of an app

One of the proponents of mobile research apps has suggested “The main advantage of a mobile app is that it allows brands to get true in-the-moment feedback from customers, versus waiting for them to get home to answer a post-purchase survey.”

This is a great advantage if you are assuming that community members have no mobile access outside the home – that they are shackled to their in-home computers. But the reality is, most survey research applications are mobile-friendly. They can be used by people anytime, anywhere. You can send people on shopping expeditions or catch them anywhere in their customer journey. In this case there is nothing that an app can offer that is different from what any mobile-friendly community offers.

This app proponent also suggested “It also provides a brand-controlled environment where customers can provide positive and negative feedback directly to the brand, instead of posting it on social media, where it can go viral.” This too is true of any community. They all offer a chance for people to provide feedback within the community, first and foremost.

We are left wondering what the upside of a mobile app is.

Let’s review the evidence

Research tells us:

  • An app makes people decide not to join the community
  • Those who will use an app are unrepresentative
  • People abandon most apps within days
  • Apps have no benefit over mobile access in general

So back to our question, “to app or not to app”?

We think there is a pretty clear answer “no”. But to learn more about our research and to get access to our recommendations for mobile best practices download our whitepaper “Survey Apps and Market Research – Do They Work?”

You can also request a walk-thru of the full results and inform your strategy for successful community recruit and engagement.