Like it or not, online shopping is here to stay, and the percentage of sales happening on mobile devices is steadily climbing. Businesses large and small are launching mobile apps to capture ecommerce dollars, but for every successful app there are dozens that fall flat.

What is it that separates a top-rated app from one that vanishes into the depths of iTunes and Google Play? Here are five things that seem to stand out among the successful.

1. Interactive content

There are some mobile apps out there that are just a canned version of a company’s website, and that doesn’t impress users. Take the Gap app on iTunes: it’s nothing but a packaged website, and the reviews haven’t been favorable. Why waste device storage space when you can just browse a mobile site that accomplishes the same thing?

SEE: Seven ways to build brand awareness into your digital strategy (Tech Pro Research)

Successful apps, like Nike+, give users a reason to install it. Nike+ interfaces with fitness apps to track your activity, delivers advice from athletes based on your interests, and even tailors featured items based on your tastes and needs.

Nike+ invites you to play with it and delivers something in return, which keeps users coming back. You can buy things in Nike+, but it doesn’t present itself purely as an ecommerce app: it’s a lifestyle app that happens to be tied to a brand.

2. A reason to keep coming back

Under Armor’s MapMyFitness platform is an ideal example of integrating a brand with a platform. MapMyFitness offers running, biking, walking, hiking, and calorie-tracking apps; you can shop Under Armor gear in all the apps, but that’s not what makes them popular.

The MapMyFitness platform keeps users coming back every day to track workouts, record routes, participate in challenges, and log meals. Research suggests branding on mobile devices improves purchase intent, and even minimal brand impression can build a positive association. The Under Armor name might not be constantly in your face with MapMyFitness, but it is definitely present enough to be noticed.

3. Added value

It isn’t enough to simply put an app in a customer’s pocket–that app needs to give them a reason to use it and spend money with your company. Starbucks’ mobile app, for example, allows users to order right from their phones and pick the order up in the store. Starbucks bills the app as a way to skip the line and get your coffee without having to wait, which is a lot of added value.

SEE: 8 best practices for outsourcing app development projects (TechRepublic)

Without mobile ordering the Starbucks app is just a store locator and a points tracker, which by themselves don’t add much value–most apps do that. What it offers is something innovative that gives customers a reason to install it, all while giving Starbucks a leg up on competition.

4. A good interface

Not to keep picking on Gap, but its iOS app is a great example of poor interface. There are several problems in Gap’s app to pick on, but the main takeaway for other businesses is not to mess with the basic ways users interact with their device.

The Gap app doesn’t allow swiping to go back a page, nor does tapping on the top of the screen return you to the top. These are two gestures that iOS users are intimately familiar with, and if you want your app to succeed you need to leave these–and other basic commands–in place.

Apps that get bad reviews can affect your brand negatively, while high ratings can drive tons of business. User interface is fundamental to an app, and no amount of added value, uniqueness, or interaction is going to overtake a clunky homescreen.

5. Regular updates

A study from the Journal of Management Information Systems found that regular updates, both for quality improvement and feature addition, increased an app’s success rate by roughly three times that of less updated ones.

If you’re not sure it’s worth updating an app frequently you need look no further than the ratings section on an app’s iTunes or Android Play page. Each update brings a new flood of complaints and requests, and keeping up with them is easily a full-time update schedule.

It’s also a good idea to include a feedback function in the app itself. While it doesn’t guarantee users will respond it at least encourages them to submit comments directly to your team.

What has your business done?

Have you had success with a branded app? Have some tips and tricks for others interested in developing their own platform? Let your fellow readers know in the comments below, or in the TechRepublic forums.

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