Five years young, mobile shopping app company ibotta has already outgrown itself and is rolling out the biggest official overhaul of its user interface today — one that gives users 17% more money back than the last version of the app.
What began as a mostly grocery shopping app that awarded rebates to users for buying stuff they normally buy anyway has drawn more shoppers outside of grocery stores. The new app, which the company hopes is more intuitive for users, has eliminated home screen clutter, provides targeted recommendations, has more inventory items from more stores, and grabs product info from receipts faster and more efficiently.
“We’ve demonstrated over 17% more in average user earnings already,” says Phil Carter, senior product manager at ibotta. “With this launch, the look and feel is very different, but we’ve proven quantitatively that it’s going to increase the user’s ability to earn money.”
The update began just about nine months ago, and Carter is confident that the new version of the app will be received well by users, especially after all the testing and research that went into it.
“Kevin Carlisle, our lead designer, and I spent the better part of 4Q  holed up in a conference room,” Carter says. “We did nearly 100 in-person user interviews, most of them at the office [in Denver], and over 1,000 online usability tests. We tested everything from clickability to user flows, showed how it looked with color one and color two, or font style one and font style two. We reimagined everything we were doing in the app and threw all assumptions out the window.”
In a large number of the user interviews, Carter and Carlisle were told the same thing: “We love mobile shopping.” Users associated the ibotta app with grocery shopping, which was a strong core business model for ibotta. But many of these users were also shopping online from mobile devices for many other types of products. Those insights inspired the new UI look on ibotta’s app.
“Now, we’ve gotten to the point where we need to incorporate retail businesses,” Carter says. “We have rebates at stores like Best Buy, Joanne Fabrics, clothing retailers like Express, Gap, Banana Republic, etc. And even more recently we’ve started to grow our mobile shopping category. We have apps like Groupon and Ebay and Jet.com that have been really popular with users who already know that [those sellers are] in our app.”
Accommodating the explosive growth of inventory has been one of the biggest challenges ibotta has dealt with so far, company CEO Bryan Leach told Street Fight via email.
“With more than 1,300 brand and retail partners, we needed to redesign the app so that our users could discover the content most relevant to them, not have to dig for it, and redeem the cash back offers in a simple, easy way,” Leach says.
The most important feedback from users that influenced this upgrade was that they didn’t want to open the ibotta app and see offers that weren’t relevant to them, Leach says.
“If you’re not a parent, then cash back on Luv’s diapers is not something that would interest you,” he says. “Personalization was key, and so our engineers and data scientists went under the hood and spent nine months developing and implementing recommendation engines that mapped to users’ personal shopping habits and preferences. Now, similar to the way in which Netflix suggests movies you might like, the new ibotta serves up the right content to the right person at the right time.”
The app overhaul also aims to make it easier for users to find mobile shopping content from their home screen. Carter says that originally, users had to navigate through several screens, choosing certain categories, in order to find the retailer and the product that they had purchased and wanted a rebate for.
“They no longer have to do that,” Carter says. “The analytics work to support custom content modules on the home screen, so now the user comes into the ibotta app and right away they see the money-saving rebates for things we think they might be interested in.”
The company has already rolled out many features of the app’s new look in the last three months, implementing new features in the old version in order to slowly acclimate users to what is now a completely different app.
“Often, when you completely overhaul an app or when you’re doing a launch of this magnitude, there’s a risk that users are not going to understand the new features, or they’ll be intimidated by all the changes you’ve made,” Carter says. “We took our existing app, we call it 4.0, and incrementally introduced a lot of these new features. We introduced the custom content on the home screen. We introduced the new vertically-scrolling gallery in the retailer category, so for Walmart or Target, the user is seeing rebates laid out for them.”
All changes to the app, even ones that might be unnoticeable to users, were individually tested to prove that they would increase the amount of earnings that each user could get, Carter says. But more importantly to him, this new app design means he and his team are positively affecting the lives of other people.
“This is probably the coolest project I’ve ever worked on,” Carter says. “We’re meaningfully impacting the lives of everyday Americans. People write in all the time and say that the few hundred dollars that they earned with ibotta enabled them to buy Christmas presents, or they were able to take their family on a summer vacation. Hearing the amount of impact we’re having on these peoples’ lives, it’s the reason I think everyone comes to work every day. It’s really moving the needle for people and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience to have.”
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.