Tech start-ups go for multiple apps to engage users better

Indian technology start-ups are replicating a model that Facebook has successfully built to allow users and partners to engage on multiple apps in order to retain customers within its environment.

E-commerce company Snapdeal has five apps, each targeted at a different set of users but interconnected with its marketplace. Similarly, hotel room aggregator Oyo Rooms and realty portal Commonfloor have four apps each.

Facebook, which began as a standalone web-based platform, approached mobile in a very different way. The company has multiple apps such as Messenger, Pages and Groups which break away functionalities from its social network. Similarly, companies like Flipkart, Zomato, Ola and Urban Ladder also have multiple apps offering various services. Anand Chandrasekaran, chief product officer at Snapdeal, said the company had taken a leaf out of Facebook's strategy to engage users in multiple ways. "The user context is very different around each of our apps," he said. "A very important thing for a company like us to retain customers is that loyalty is prelude to the problem but not the solution."

Other advantages of having a multiple app strategy include faster development times, ease of updating, better user experience and the ability to explore different revenue models. This, in turn, helps in effective user engagement and hence better retention rates.

As of September 2015, there were 352 million Internet users in India, of which over 60 per cent were on mobile, according to industry body Internet and Mobile Association of India. As smartphone penetration grows in the country, India is expected to have 300 million mobile Internet users by 2017. Vserv, a platform for mobile marketing and commerce, in a July 29 statement, said Indian users spent an average of 169 minutes on their smartphones a day, while one in four users downloaded 18.5 mobile apps and games a month. Developers are looking to ride this wave by rolling out mobile-first services.

Besides, 3G and 4G services have brought better connectivity, enabling users to access many more services. With increased availability of cheaper devices with large storage capacities, it is becoming less of a hurdle for developers to make customers install multiple apps.

RIDING HIGH ON APPS
  • E-commerce company Snapdeal has five apps, each targeted at a different set of users but interconnected with its marketplace
  • OYO, an online marketplace for hotel rooms, has four apps, one each for consumers, property managers, the operations team and hotel owners
  • CommonFloor has four apps, one each for property search, residents' group, agents, and the CommonFloor Retina Virtual Reality, which helps users to have a 3D view of properties
  • While it might seem counter-productive to make users download and install multiple apps, Facebook has been able to pull this off with its messaging platform Messenger. As of August this year, Messenger alone had 700 million active users

According to Snapdeal, its social selling platform Shopo blurs the line between buyer and seller, while that is not the case with its marketplace app. "We wanted the buyer and seller experience to coexist with Shopo. It works well to separate such offerings (Shopo) so that it does not look cluttered," Chandrasekaran added.

While it might seem counter-productive to make users download and install multiple apps, Facebook has been able to pull this off with its messaging platform Messenger. Initially, when the company discontinued messaging through the Facebook app, it faced resistance from users. But since then, the growth of Messenger has ballooned. As of August this year, Messenger alone had 700 million active users.

"Asking everyone in our community to install a new app is a big ask. We wanted to do this because we believe that this is a better experience. Messaging is becoming increasingly important. On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well," Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook had said last year after the company started promoting Messenger as a standalone platform.

According to realty portal CommonFloor's co-founder Lalit Mangal, the company wanted to provide the right solution and experience to the end-user using different apps. "We have a significant overlap of user base among our apps. We make sure to deep-link apps with each other to ensure good experience and usage," he said.

The company has four apps, one each for property search, residents' group, agents, and the CommonFloor Retina Virtual Reality, which helps users to have a 3D view of properties.

However, these companies do not necessarily have different revenue models for different apps. While Snapdeal and FreeCharge apps have a discovery-driven model for monetisation, Shopo is looking at making money through advertising. CommonFloor has separate revenue models for some of its apps.

The multiple app strategy cuts through the core of a company. Many users, once they become familiar with highly functional connected devices, may not come online in newer categories. They could start consuming more in the categories that are already online.

"It is a function of what problem you are solving. The question is whether the app is creating a niche area by unbundling. Wherever the user base is high due to the unique features of the app, I do not think there is a problem," said Anurag Gaggar, VP, product manager, of OYO Rooms.

OYO, an online marketplace for hotel rooms, has four apps, one each for consumers, property managers, the operations team and hotel owners.

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