Mobile App Growth, User Acquisition

Now’s the Time for Shopping Apps and Games to Double Down on Mobile User Acquisition

Luba Anashina
Feb 9, 2018

Flurry’s recent report on app activity found that in-app session growth slowed to 6% between 2016 and 2017, which is disconcerting for both app developers and marketers alike. But if you read between the lines of the report, you’ll find bright spots for user acquisition and retention, particularly for shopping apps and mobile gaming apps. 

Even as some app categories falter, sessions in shopping apps actually increased by 54% in 2017 as more users became accustomed to buying on mobile. Additionally, apps in the music, media, and entertainment categories have seen usage rise 43% year-over-year, signaling the increased adoption of on-demand streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and others.  

However, some app categories are struggling to grow. In particular, sessions for mobile games dropped 16% between 2016 and 2017, making user acquisition more important than ever. Despite the decline, Sensor Tower notes that gamers are spent way more time and money on mobile games last year than the year before—a finding validated by Newzoo.

Simply put, while some app categories boom and others lag, users are getting more comfortable spending money on mobile devices, whether in shopping apps or spending on mobile games. This means it’s time to double down on user acquisition to capture and retain shoppers and gamers.

Flurry Mobile App Usage Growth 2017

Mobile shopping: Harness the power of the wave

As the movement to m-commerce grows, consumer trust in mobile app subscriptions and in-app purchases (IAP) grows along with it. In fact, the Flurry report shows that mobile shopping sessions have been the most successful in defying stagnant growth.

Why? Because the omnichannel, multi-device nature of modern shopping dictates that purchasing is a result of linked behaviors that have the power to drive in-context actions based on a shopper’s need state. That’s because mobile and apps are now synonymous with discovery, research, social influence, advertising, push notifications, and a bunch of other experiences.

Forrester backs this logic with a report that predicts purchases via mobile phones will influence $1.4 trillion in offline sales by 2021. Additionally, App Annie reports that time spent in “bricks-and-clicks” branded apps (the mobile presence of brick-and-mortar retailers) has risen by 40% in the last 12 months. Put it all together and it’s clear that both the opportunity and competitive landscape for acquiring mobile shoppers are becoming greater.


To gain an advantage, the best thing you can do is invest more in UA during periods when CPI/CPM rates are lower and consumers are less inundated with calls to action:

“Take September, a month when acquisition costs drop to an all-time low for the year ($62.65–or roughly 20% less than the average) and the install-to-purchase rate soars to 7.1% (the high for the year). This is a clear indication users are buying, not browsing.”

Source: Liftoff, Mobile Acquisition Trends and Benchmarks 2017

In particular, mobile app market growth is spiking in developing Latin American markets like Brazil and Argentina as millions of users leapfrog desktop to their first mobile shopping experience. Likewise, mobile users in APAC are now accustomed to mobile buying, with an install-to-purchase rate of 8.64%—greater than any region outside the U.S. (17.68%). For marketers with a global focus, the time has never been better to dive in to the mobile shopping category.

Mobile gaming: Find your competitive edge

Gaming is a wildly competitive category where the top five or 10 titles dominate revenue. Yes, you can be competitive with a limited UA budget if your product and user experience are awesome, but be prepared for a fight.

Let’s keep in mind that revenue for mobile gaming more than doubled between 2013 and 2017 and that’s a good thing. It’s just that there are only 10 or so apps and publishers worldwide who own most of that revenue. That can make it tough for the little guys.

The key to success in this category is allowing users to quickly dive deep into your game by allowing them to explore and share experiences in an active fashion. The new edition of user acquisition in gaming is guided by autonomous exploration and intelligent, automated messaging via any channel.


You have to constantly study your specific market, harness data, and make quick, smart decisions about growing your mobile game. Working with a good publisher can be helpful depending on your battle plan, but you’ll need a war chest to win.

“Being able to buy at a large scale gives that buyer a huge advantage. Smaller devs buying fewer users with a lower budget won’t get half as much out of their UA investment as a bigger company would. This means that the buyer at the smaller scale has to interact with the market in a completely different way than the those who can buy large numbers.”

Source: GameSparks, User Acquisition, the coal that keeps the mobile fire burning

Thumbspire suggests you ask these questions to get started:

  • What’s my marketing budget?
  • What is my audience and how can I reach them? What are your optimal, executable tools?
  • Am I optimizing to a specific KPI? For example, do you just want a maximum number of installs, or are you seeking specific users with “high value” characteristics?  

Once you’ve nailed down the answers, successful execution within your means will depend on optimizing your UA to industry best practices proven to please users.

The cardinal rules

First and foremost, the time to think about user acquisition is before you develop your game. Understanding your target market based on a detailed analysis of your most profitable projected users is key, as is knowing the competition.

Second, apply your efforts to the channels and tactics that offer the greatest return. There’s no point investing in a CPI campaign in the UK if your average user there has a lifetime value (LTV) that’s a fraction of users elsewhere.

Finally, never forget that user acquisition is a process, not a task. Think with Google offers three essential tips for user acquisition:

  1. The most important task is defining the right event to optimize for. In the context of your app, identify which events are a good proxy for high user quality.
  2. Whenever you have empty spaces in your app, fill them with metadata (text, images, and other stuff that can be read in app stores and elsewhere) so you can supercharge your UA reporting with actionable insights.
  3. Quoting Saikala Sultanova, ‎co-founder of the UA Society Summit: “It’s important to test what you can….The natural environment changes, but staying in a testing mindset can keep you on the top of your UA game.”

Finally, don’t discount the power of creative. Good ads are essential, especially in cases where you are paying networks based on CPI. Ultimately, such networks “back everything out to an eCPM model,” according to TUNE, so making a strong impression is not only vital to good UA, it also has a direct impact on your campaign ROI.

In booming app categories like mobile shopping and gaming, it’s important for markets to focus on user acquisition tactics and tools proven to engage audiences, earn trust, and drive optimal outcomes.

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