Peak-a-Boo: Retail Apps See You Street Fight

Peak-a-Boo: Retail Apps See You

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Do branded apps usage peak, after holidays, tentpole events, or other special occasions, for you?

Airship, which helps brands optimize their mobile app experiences for customers, released research this month that shows the struggle is real for retailers trying to capture and sustain long-term value from app downloads during “peak” times of the year.

Airship analyzed mobile lifecycle and retention data across more than 60 million new shopping apps first installed between Oct. 1 and Nov. 27 (Cyber Monday), and found that six of the top seven peak install days were highly concentrated in the week that included Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving has been the #1 shopping app install day of the year for the past decade.

Maybe Halloween doesn’t inspire the same volume of purchases: Airship found that

The Oct. 1-7 time period contained five of seven of the lowest daily install counts, providing a one-week pre-holiday cohort to compare against peak-week (Nov. 19-25) customers.

“For apps, peak install periods are the most significant value creation opportunities,” said Corey Gault, VP of Communications, Airship. “They are also the most costly due to more paid install competition.”

For example, peak week 2023 saw 40% more app installs than October’s weekly average while Black Friday doubled October’s daily average. By week three post-install, customers have 18% lower weekly retention rates on average than customers acquired pre-holiday. “By week 15, it gets worse as pre-holiday customers have an average weekly retention rate 27% higher than peak-week’s rate,” Gault said.

Airship’s client roster includes Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, the BBC, FOX, the PGA Tour, Onefootball, Bankinter, KeyBank, Burger King, Chipotle, telcos like Orange and Vodafone, and retailers including The Home Depot and Saks Fifth Avenue.

For one of its clients, DeutschlandCard, a loyalty-points program, Airship helped boost usage of the app as well as purchasing frequency among members. The effort also benefitted the app’s participating POS partners to increase a multi-channel rewards program between target customers and partner companies. Airship created a program that gamified a DeutschlandCard omnichannel campaign. Participants partnered with stores to get prize-draw tickets, which were checkable only via the app. For every prize draw, participants also received a discount coupon for their next purchase.

Campaign results boosted monthly active users by 22%, 184% increase in app downloads and 24% increase in purchasing frequency.

Gault said retailers should not be treating peak-week customers the same as they do pre-holiday customers. The holiday season has an urgent, transactional focus when people are busier than usual with entertaining, shopping, and working. He explained that retailers allow peak-week customers to remain transactionally focused, which results in lower retention rates before Christmas even arrives.

Instead, retailers should focus on advancing the peak-weekers through the mobile-app lifecycle, from acquisition to activation, engagement and loyalty. Such focus on the cycle bodes better for capturing long-term value from new app customers.

Both the peak and pre-holiday cohorts saw 38% of new users only open the app once within the analysis time frame (Week 0). Before download, and even after (per these findings), top apps must consistently reinforce their value everywhere: across communication channels, on their websites, in stores, in advertising and earned media, and with their customer-facing staff.

In the first 30 days after download, top apps focus on communicating with new users. Even a simple welcome message, can lift activation rates. Getting new users to register or authenticate is also important because it enables the apps to link customers’ interactions and journeys across other channels for more holistic understanding.  Successful apps also constantly optimize their onboarding experiences — from the app store listing page that different demographics see, to the first screens new users see on opening the app.


Airship analyzed aggregate data from shopping apps with at least 100,000 monthly active users that also saw new installs and at least 1,000 device sessions within both the peak-week and pre-holiday cohorts. Analysis zeroed in on 63 million new app users gained between October 1 and November 27, 2023. One-week pre-holiday and peak-week cohorts were established to track and compare monthly activation and engagement metrics through February 2024 and weekly retention rates through Week 15 following Week 0 installation.

Kathleen Sampey
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