Photo credit: Victor Perez Moreno, Flickr

Increasing in-store traffic with a mobile app: 3 brands that are doing it right

by Helen Wu on Aug 18, 2016

At this point, we’re all quite familiar with the “brick and mortar is dying” tale of woe. Sports Authority just went out of business, and last week, Macy’s announced that it is closing 100 stores that have been struggling. The short version of why, of course, is “Amazon is eating everyone’s lunch” — brick and mortar retailers everywhere are taking a hit because consumers love the convenience of online shopping.

It’s easy to think that this means doom and gloom for all brick and mortar retailers, but it’s important to remember and take stock of companies that are actually thriving in light of new consumer habits, using digital and specifically mobile to actually drive valuable traffic to their stores. After all, consumers spend more and convert at higher rates when they are in stores rather than online, and  according to Deloitte Digital, 84% of store visitors use their devices before or during a shopping trip. Moreover, 22% spend more as a result of using digital, and over half of those spend at least 25% more than they intended. Given stats like that, it’s crucial that brick and mortar retailers leverage mobile to drive customers to their stores.

Here’s my take on three companies that have done a remarkable job cracking this nut:


Sephora to Go takes home awards for good reason: it pushes the envelope with mobile (and technology in general) in an array of efforts to increase foot traffic. Via its app, users can virtually try on lipsticks to narrow down the options to try on in the store, browse for items and save them to a “beauty bag” to try on in the store, or book an appointment in the store. As soon as you log on to the app, in fact, it lets you know that getting you to the store is its priority. To wit, this is what you get as soon as you install and open the app:


The first screen upon activation of the Sephora app highlights what the user can do in-store.

For a long time now, the store experience has been core to the brand; mobile is seen as key to that strategy because it gets users excited about what they can do at the store (like find out their “Color IQ”) and actually drives them to the store. 

The point is that Sephora understood that its consumers approach buying makeup as if they’re on a treasure hunt, and mobile essentially gives clues to the “treasures” that they can only find in-store.


The in-store experience is promoted throughout the app.

And get people to the store, and they’ll buy more — and probably thanks to that fun area by the cash registers with relatively inexpensive items. The joy of impulse buys!


Then there’s Target, a juggernaut with a very different approach: multiple mobile apps that not only streamline the experience for the user (thanks to what is called unbundling), but maximize presence in the app store and ensure multiple points of engagement. In addition to the regular Target app (which has all the usual shopping and list features), Target Registry, and Target Kids’ Wishlist, the company offers Cartwheel, which allows users to find deals at their local store, add them to a personalized barcode, find the item easily once they’re in the store (yahoo!), and then scan the barcode at checkout to save on those items. Users can also pair Cartwheel with other coupons, making it even more attractive to people who go to the store. Target is also experimenting with redperks, a loyalty program: for every $1 spent, users get 10 points, and once they gain 5,000 points, they get a reward.


Cartwheel offers special deals — but only if you go on a Target run.

And as a device aimed at getting shoppers into the store, Cartwheel has paid off: It’s been downloaded more than 23 million times and contributed to more than $3 billion in revenue since it launched just over three years ago.


It’s not just US based retailers that are leveraging mobile to drive more store foot traffic — retailers all over the globe are doing it. Take  MUJI, a Japanese retailer that recently caught my attention because it’s done such a stellar job leveraging mobile to increase foot traffic. According to App Annie, this “brick and mortar retailer offering a minimalist aesthetic at a low price point” was struggling: it just wasn’t driving consumers to its stores. When the time was right to develop an app (once smartphone penetration had reached the right point in Japan), MUJI went for it: they designed an app with the straightforward goal of getting more people into the store.


This coupon from the MUJI app, Passport, offers 10% off at the register.

So what does MUJI Passport (their app) offer? Ten percent in-store discounts for users of the app during “MUJI Week” sales. Painless redemption of membership discounts at the register. Rewards for even downloading the app. Push notifications on discounted products. And the coup de grace? Surprise bonus points. MUJI offered bonus points to 7.7 million Muji members (not just app users but credit card holders and MUJI card users), and bada bing, bada boom: literally overnight after a push notification, MUJI saw foot traffic surge dramatically, even beyond their expectations — and store transaction counts continued to rise. Now Passport enjoys more than two million monthly active users via iOS and Google Play.

Sephora, Target, and MUJI are all great examples of apps that can have a terrific impact on foot traffic in brick and mortar stores, and each shares with us a slightly different lesson. Sephora teaches us that selling a fantastic in-store experience in a great mobile app can be successful; Target teaches us that multiple apps support brand awareness and engage consumers at multiple touch points that drive to the store; and MUJI teaches us that going “all in” with offerings through a mobile app — and alerting users via multiple channels to the advantages of going into the store — can bring your consumers to you. In the end, it’s about capitalizing on your app to get people in the store, where they will spend more than they will on “one-off” online purchases.

Helen Wu is a director of Growth Partnerships at AppLovin.